• Lexington Herald-Leader Publication
Happy trails: Proponents say hiking, biking opportunities
will be a big draw for city
Jennifer Hewlett, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.Apr. 20–For years, Lexington leaders have envisioned a system of interconnecting trails that would run throughout Fayette County, providing places for people to bike and hike — and possibly serving as a draw for tourists and others hoping to get an up-close look at the Bluegrass.
Those plans have generally been a path to nowhere.
But this might be the year when many Lexingtonians are able to start dusting off their bicycles and lacing up their sneakers.
Before the year is out, Lexington’s trail mileage should nearly double with the construction of 6.5 more miles of paved trail for bicycling, walking and other types of non-motorized use. The mileage, scattered throughout Fayette County in six planned trail sections, will bring the total number of trail miles in Fayette County to nearly 15.
And city leaders, who say Lexington lags behind other cities in
recreational opportunities such as trails, plan to spend more money on trail-building next year. So far, there are plans to build 4 miles of trail in Fayette County in 2008. An additional 13.6 miles are on the drawing board.
Mayor Jim Newberry has proposed spending $2 million for trails in the next city budget. City officials say that local money could be parlayed into $10 million in new trails if used to match federal grants.
Newberry said the renewed focus on trail-building could bring a lot of benefits to Lexington.
“In addition to recreation, they are economic-development tools, they
are paths to improved health and can even be alternative
transportation,” he said this week as the city put the finishing
touches on the first mile of the Brighton East Rail Trail. That route
runs from Bryant Road to Pleasant Ridge Drive in southeastern Fayette
The mile-long section, which was paid for with $426,000 in federal funds and will be officially dedicated Sunday, is the first piece of trail built along an abandoned railroad corridor in Fayette County. The railroad abandonment runs from Lexington to just outside of Ashland.
“How can anybody not be for this?” said Lexington attorney Bill Gorton, who represents the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council, an organization that promotes turning abandoned railroad corridors into trails and greenways. “It is an absolute win-win for everybody, including neighbors.”
Trail sections to be built this year include:
— A second mile of the Brighton East Rail Trail, from Pleasant Ridge Drive to Deer Haven Lane, at a cost of $500,000.
— Town Branch Trail, 2 miles, from Long Branch Lane to Alexandria Drive, $550,000.
— South Elkhorn Trail, 1 mile, from Lockdale Terrace to Joseph Bryan Way, $200,000.
— Wellington Trail, a half-mile on Reynolds Road, from the traffic circle to the Shillito Park entrance, $150,000.
— Liberty Park Trail, a half-mile parallel to Flying Ebony Drive, $100,000.
— West Hickman Trail, a mile and a half, from Man o’ War Boulevard to Veterans Park, $1.5 million.
Construction is set to begin on the Liberty Park Trail section in the next couple of weeks. All of the trail projects planned for this year, which are being paid for with federal transportation dollars, should be complete before the end of the year, said Keith Lovan, a municipal engineer for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government who oversees local trail projects.
Trail proponents in Lexington point out that in other parts of the country, trails have led to an increase in tourism and the development of businesses along them, including bicycle shops and bed-and-breakfast inns.
“It actually increases the value of properties near or adjacent to
these trails,” Gorton said. “The people that use them are generally the kind of people you would want in your neighborhood.”
Van Meter Pettit, who has been working for years to get a trail built that essentially follows Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek, sees that particular proposed trail as more than something that would lead to health and economic benefits. He sees it as a way of restoring “dormant” history.
Lexington got its start along Town Branch, part of which now runs under Vine Street and emerges west of Rupp Arena.
“What happened was, the city was just a village — it was laid out on a creek, and then it outgrew the creek, and they kind of covered it up, bit by bit,” said Pettit, who is president of Town Branch Trail Inc. “A good century and a half of the city developed along the regular course of the creek.”
A half-mile section of Town Branch Trail, from Leestown Road to Long Branch Lane, opened in October 2005.
There is opposition to certain trail legs proposed for Lexington. Some people who live near proposed trail segments are concerned about loss of privacy and vandalism, Lovan said.
“It has proven not to be the situation,” he said. “A lot of times our biggest opponents become our biggest supporters.”
Kentucky is behind many states when it comes to trails. But several other cities and towns in the state, including Louisville, Bowling Green and Owensboro, have made a commitment to building them. Louisville, especially, has a good trail program, Lovan said.
“We have a plan for a 100-mile loop, known right now as the Metro Loop,” said Metro Louisville transportation planner Mohammad Nouri. Nineteen miles of the loop, which will encircle Jefferson County, are already in place. Construction is to begin on 8 more miles this summer, he said.
He said Lexington ought to be commended for the trails it’s building.
Lexington leaders hope to eventually have two major trail arteries —
one running north-south, from Veterans Park to the Kentucky Horse Park, and the other running east-west, from Masterson Station Park to Deer Haven Lane — to which neighborhood trailways would be connected. The exact routes for the north-south and east-west trails have not been determined, but three of the trail sections set to be built this year would be legs of the north-south and east-west trails, Lovan said.
“A lot of American cities have 20, 30, 60 miles of trails, and
Lexington is one of those great American cities that is catching up,” Pettit said. “Louisville sets a very high benchmark for us, and it’s a good thing. If we set our sights on emulating Louisville, then we’ll have a world-class trail system in no time.”If you go
The first section of the Brighton East Rail Trail will be dedicated at 2 p.m. Sunday in Pleasant Ridge Park. The event will include bike and pony rides, popcorn and prizes.
Lexington is getting 6.5 miles of biking and walking trails this year. The trail sections to be constructed are scattered throughout Fayette County.
Copyright (c) 2007, The Lexington Herald-Leader, Ky.
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