Author Archives: Van Meter Pettit

Town Branch Quotations from History

“The town layout was not to be oriented to the compass, but rather aligned to the Town Fork of Elkhorn Creek, whose course became the site of an elongated common ten poles (165′) wide. Lots were arranged on a grid in three rows, one on the rise south of the stream, extending to Hill (High) Street, and two on the more level north side divided by Main Street and bounded by Short Street.”

—1781 Lexington Town Plan.1

“This stream flows unseen beneath the streets of the city now and with scarce current enough to wash out its grim channels; but then it flashed broad and clear through the long valley which formed the town common, – a valley of scattered houses with orchards and corn fields and patches of cane.”

— James Lane Allen story, “James Gray,” in which the hero relates the tale of the Battle of Blue Licks while on the bank of the Town Fork.2

“They beheld a land of bewildering beauty; a land of running waters, of groves and glades and prairies and canebrakes; a land teeming with game, great herds of shaggy-maned buffalo, the lordly elk, the deer, the bear, and the panther, flocks of wild geese and turkeys and paroquettes—a land literally flowing with milk and honey.”

— Maude Lafferty’s description of Town Branch as seen by settlers in 1775.3

1 Clay Lancaster, Vestiges of the Venerable City, a Chronicle of Lexington, Kentucky (Lexington, KY: Lexington-Fayette County Historic Commission, 1978), 9.

2 James Lane Allen, “John Gray” (Lippincott’s Magazine, June 1892) in Wilson,Samuel M., ed. “Sesqui-Centennial Symposium: A symposium of tribute to Lexington on the occasion of the sesquicentennial anniversary of its birth” (Lexington, KY: 1925), 37.

3 Maude Lafferty, The Town Branch. 1917, p. 2.

Dry Stone Retaining Walls and Fences

Historic stone fences are a unique and distinctive feature of the Bluegrass landscape. An example of these fences can be seen at the former landfill on Old Frankfort Pike. In addition to stone fences, the Town Branch Trail will highlight other dry stone structures, retaining walls, which can be found along the Town Branch to maintain the stream banks and channel the water. British and Scotch-Irish craftsmen supervised much of the dry stone construction during the 1800s.

Dry stone structures do not depend on mortar to hold retaining walls or fences together. Instead, they rely on the skill of the craftsmen to shape and place individual stones as well as the forces of gravity and frictional resistance. Mortared walls generally have a shorter life span than dry stone walls because frozen rain and snow get trapped in mortared seams and push the joints apart. Due to construction techniques, dry stone retaining walls and fences can drain naturally without damage. Remarkably, as a dry stone structure settles over time, it actually becomes stronger. The dry stone retaining walls found along Town Branch have been exceptionally durable and have functioned well for up to two centuries and counting.


Alvey, R. G. Kentucky Bluegrass Country. pp. 37-47. 1992.
Dry Stone Conservancy.

Town Branch Trail Vision and Benefits

Recreation, Health and Alternative Transportation.

Envision yourself on a spirited jog from Masterson Station Park to Triangle Park, on a peaceful, shady trail unobstructed by automobiles. You arrive downtown, invigorated with exercise, and refresh yourself at an outdoor café. You then shop at small boutiques for that special gift to take home.

The Trail will provide a pleasant environment for walking, running, biking and roller-blading. The Trail will offer an alternative route to school, work, shopping, dining and entertainment, fostering more vibrant pedestrian tourism in downtown Lexington. An urban recreational trail will attract visitors and provide a necessary, but currently missing, component in Lexington’s urban renaissance. The Trail will connect downtown Lexington’s many commercial, dining, cultural, and public venues with the Convention Center and major hotels, providing a unique recreational outlet for meeting attendees.


Envision yourself standing at the banks of a spring, the same banks where stalwart settlers stood in the midst of the American Revolution and proclaimed this land Lexington and their home. You touch the limestone walls pioneer Kentuckians hand laid into frontier stations and admire restored buildings that were Lexington’s earliest industries. School children walk interpretive trails and receive an experiential lesson in local history.

Much of Lexington’s earliest history occurred along the banks of Town Branch Creek. Dry-laid stone settlers’ houses (circa 1790), an old stone mill (circa 1820), an historic rail line (circa 1830), an historic farmstead (circa 1850), and a former bourbon distillery are all still present beside the creek. The trail will connect Lexingtonians with their rich and varied history via a series of unique and historic landmarks.


Envision yourself listening to the soft gurgle of Town Branch as it winds through healthy masses of native vegetation. You enjoy whippoorwills frolicking in swaths of aromatic clover and cane. The wind tosses the long fronds of a willow tree and you notice chipmunks darting about its base and into the recesses of a dry-laid stonewall. Interpretive signage helps you understand the natural history and ecology of Town Branch.

Town Branch Trail will help restore Town Branch Creek. By making the creek a valuable public asset again, the Trail will discourage the pollution that has made the Town Branch one of the state’s unsavory waterways. Along the Trail we hope to restore native plants and wetlands to better serve wildlife, water quality, and flood control.

Community and Economic Development.

Envision yourself wondering through an open-air market while shopping from a myriad of artisans and organic farmers. You follow a long arcade of willow and cheery trees from a dry-laid stone pavilion and karst-inspired fountain to warehouses renovated into stylish loft spaces. You look further down the trail and old structures appear new again as Town Branch becomes an anchor of civic pride.

The Town Branch Trail will run through urban industrial areas and older neighborhoods that have witnessed decades of decline. By investing in this area with an attractive shared-use greenway trail, Lexington will encourage reinvestment and redevelopment that will connect with and extend the vitality of downtown.

Town Branch cloud

Herald Leader, Posted on Sat, Apr. 26, 2003

Why city tolerates an open sewer is real mystery

In what has become a rite of spring, the milky mystery cloud reappeared recently on Town Branch, signaling yet again that Lexington has turned this historic waterway into an open sewer.
Best guess, based on the titanium dioxide traces in the earlier slugs, is that the pollutant is latex paint.
City environmental engineer David Gabbard speculates that someone is cleaning paint buckets and brushes in an old mop sink or drain that was illegally connected to the storm sewers, probably years ago.
But illegal storm sewer connections are not the only way that raw sewage enters Town Branch.
The sanitary sewers also overflow into the creek. The main suspect is an overloaded underground system that serves the University of Kentucky, Ashland Park and Chevy Chase.
The overflows are a remnant of when municipal drainage systems were engineered to dump untreated sewage into storm sewers and streams during rains to prevent backups in houses.
Sewage overflows were installed along the 3-mile line in 1963. The sewer overflows and storm water go into an underground creek, buried about 100 years ago, that empties into Town Branch at Manchester Street.
Nowadays, heavy rain may not be required for the sewers to overflow. High fecal counts have been measured in Town Branch after dry spells. The city’s planning, environmental management and sanitary sewer divisions are investigating to pinpoint the problem’s sources and solutions.
Whatever the causes, the pollution of Town Branch with raw sewage is gross. It’s no less disgusting than the reviled mountain straight pipes. It’s also a violation of the Clean Water Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency outlawed intentional sewer overflows in the 1980s.
Ending the sewage spills is on the city’s three-year, $23 million sewer improvement plan. But this upgrade is last on the list, behind projects that would relieve sewage backups in basements, yards and parks.
It’s hard to believe that in 2003 Lexington tolerates an open sewer just west of downtown. But the proof is there, in the mystery cloud that appears each spring to remind us of our environmental sins.

Promoting Physical Activity Through Trails

CDC trails and health
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Trails have been built and maintained in this country mainly for reasons related to transportation and recreation. Rarely, however, have people asked how important are trails to our health and whether trails should be a resource accessible to multiple-types of recreation users?
There is strong scientific evidence that regular physical activity promotes health and reduces risk of premature death and many chronic diseases. It is recommended that adults obtain a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity (e.g., brisk walking) on most, if not all, days of the week.
Indeed, there is now scientific evidence that providing access to places for physical activity increases the level of physical activity in a community.1 The Task Force on Community Preventive Services strongly recommends creating or enhancing access to trails and other places for physical activity. However, just building trails is not enough, the Task Force highlighted that communication strategies and outreach activities that promote using trails and facilities are also recommended. A typical study of an intervention to create or enhance access to places for physical activity reports a 25% increase in physical activity levels.2

The health benefits of using trails are significant

* Regular physical activity is a key component of any weight loss effort.3 Greater access to trails can directly impact our nation’s obesity epidemic by improving access to places for physical activity and opportunities.

* Participating in aerobic training significantly reduces systolic and diastolic blood pressure.4 Trails provide the opportunity for individuals to help control their hypertension (high blood pressure).

* Moderate physical activity such as walking and cycling on trails can protect against developing non-insulin dependent diabetes.5

* Through aerobic exercise training, walking and cycling on trails can improve symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety of a magnitude comparable to that obtained with some pharmacological agent.6

* Studies have reported that walking two or more miles a day reduces the chance of premature death by 50%.7

Trails Reach the Whole Community

Many commonly recognized activities related to physical activity exclude large segments of the community. For example: organized team sports may favor athletically gifted individuals and families with sufficient financial means; fitness centers may favor individuals who have high self-determination and fitness ability; youth recreational programs may favor young children. Trails however, represent a diversity of opportunity from the gifted athlete interested in a convenient place to train to the individuals who are looking for an aesthetically pleasing place to take an after dinner walk to a family walking to spend time together.

Many Users—Many Uses

Trails are a medium that offers many opportunities for physical activity:

* Walking the dog
* Walking as break from work
* Walking to a scenic outlook
* Walking as a break from driving
* Rollerblade/inline skating
* Jogging & Running
* Wheelchair accessible recreation
* Bicycling
* Cross County Skiing and Snowshoeing
* Fishing and hunting
* Horseback riding
* Landscaping and trail maintenance
* Bird watching
* Playing with children
* Strolling with infants and toddlers
* Spending time with friends & relatives
* Your ideas here. . .


American Hiking Society’s “Hikers Info Center”*
The National Park Service; Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program
Promoting Physical Activity Through Recreation In America’s Great Outdoors
Rails-to-Trails Conservancy*
Trails and Greenways Clearinghouse*
CDC’s Brochure, Trails for Health: Promoting Healthy Lifestyles & Environments (PDF – 95.5K)
This is also available as a text-only 508-accessible version (PDF – 86.3K).

Related Information
National Partnership Promotes Health and Recreation

For more information about this contact
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity,
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention
and Health Promotion,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
4770 Buford Highway, NE, MS/K-24
Atlanta, GA 30341-3717
Telephone (770) 488-5820
Fax (770) 488-5473


1. Creating or Improving Access to Places for Physical Activity is Strongly Recommended to Increase Physical Activity. The Task Force on Community Preventive Services. Available: [on-line]*

2. Ibid

3. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease and Health Promotion. Promoting Physical Activity: A Guide for Community Action.

4. Y.A. Kesaniemi, E. Danforth, M.D. Jensen , P.G. Kopelman, P. Lefebvre, B.R. Reeder. Dose-response issues concerning physical activity and health: an evidence-based symposium. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 33(6):S352-S358.

5. Knowler WC, Barrett-Connor E, Fowler SE, Hamman RF, Lachin JM, Walker EA, Nathan DM; Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Reduction in the incidence of type 2 diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin. N Engl J Med 2002 Feb 7;346(6):393-403.

6. Ibid

7. Hakim, A.A., H. Petrovitch, C.M. Burchfiel, et al. Effects of walking on mortality among non-smoking retired men. N. Eng. J. Med. 338:94-99, 1998.

This page last updated March 04, 2004
United States Department of Health and Human Services
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity