Category Archives: News

Idea for creek sounds like a winner.

Lexington Herald-Leader Publication


September 24, 2000
Section: City & Region
Edition: Final
Page: C1
Author: Don Edwards, Herald-Leader Columnist

“The very form of our town came from the creek.”
–Van Meter Pettit

We’ve driven over it and past it thousands of times, but many of us don’t notice that the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek is there.
It’s not that easy to find the middle fork of the Elkhorn. From the east, it runs under downtown Lexington through a brick-vaulted waterway, then comes up near the huge parking lot behind Rupp Arena.If you drive to the west end of the lot, there’s a double line of trees on the south.

You have to stop and get out of the car, walk over and look through the yellowing leaves to see sunlight bouncing off the quiet water.It’s like an oasis in a desert of asphalt — an anomaly, a geographical antique left from pioneer days.

Yesterday, as part of ideaFestival, a couple of dozen people sat in the first-floor theater of the Lexington Public Library and listened to architect Van Meter Pettit, 33, talk about his favorite idea: “Town Branch Trail.”The idea is to turn Lexington’s oldest, polluted waterway into a new kind of landscape feature, a trail for walking, running and biking that runs alongside the creek past 19th-century retaining walls; 200-year-old houses; and buildings that once housed horse stables and woolen mills.”It would connect parts of the city like a necklace,” Pettit said, “linking downtown to McConnell Springs Park and Masterson Station Park.” When you see downtown “only from the perspective of four-foot sidewalks and whizzing cars, you feel crowded,” he said, “but if you could get on a trail system that eventually went 20 miles, it wouldn’t seem crowded.”

Pettit took the idea to Urban County Council member Sandy Shafer. Now Town Branch Trail is a project of the Friends of the Parks of Fayette County Inc., a non-profit citizens’ group.
The Town Branch area, Pettit said, is one that was once important to the city, but it was long ago abandoned in favor of business and residential growth.

Now it’s an area of poor neighborhoods and industrial expanse. “We wouldn’t do that nowadays: put kids, heavy machinery and industry on top of each other,” he said. “But this is a way to bail out poor neighborhoods, give them a new life.”

Ultimately, the pollution of Town Branch is a situation that’s going to have to be cleaned up anyway, he said, so why not sooner than later? He envisioned replanting native plants along the creek corridor, and he reminded his listeners that park space is not just for walkers, joggers, bicycle riders and student tours: “The people who work in the area near McConnell Springs Park go there to eat lunch. It’s a resource for everybody.” I listened to Pettit’s presentation. I liked the idea, and I wondered if it would become a reality some time in the 21st century.

If you’re interested in helping with, donating to or merely learning more about Town Branch Trail, you can reach Pettit at Pettit’s father, H. Foster Pettit, a former Lexington mayor, was in the theater listening to his son’s presentation.

Maybe a new generation will change a very old Town Branch for the better.
Don Edwards can be reached at (859) 231-3211, (800) 950-6397 or

These archives are stored on a SAVE ™ newspaper library system from MediaStream Inc., a Knight-Ridder Inc. company.

Students help with trail idea

The Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek still retains much of its beauty.

Greenways: Boulder, Colo., and New York City have theirs; why can’t Lexington?

Mark Vanderhoff

Students of UK’s landscape architecture program Friday joined Lexington Vice Mayor Isabel Yates and members of Friends of the Parks to unveil a proposal for a trail along Elkhorn Creek.

The Town Branch Greenway would begin in downtown Lexington and end at McConnell Springs.

“Trails are in – they are the fashionable thing to do,” Yates told about 80 people gathered at McConnell Springs for the presentation.

The term “greenway” is used to describe an area of land connecting cultural or historic sites, parks and natural areas with each other and with communities. They serve as recreational areas, but are also important for conservation and the protection of land and water quality.

The Town Branch Greenway would provide space for biking, running, walking, roller-blading and other activities as well as protection of the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek, one of the most polluted streams in the state and a contributor to Lexington’s source of drinking water, the Kentucky River.

Several UK landscape architecture students presented their findings from a six-week project to inventory the proposed area and analyze its possible uses.

They waded through water that Randy Hoffacker, a landscape architecture senior, said “you absolutely don’t want to touch.”

“We saw green and orange ooze,” near the closed county landfill, he said.

The leaking landfill, as well as fecal coliform bacteria and hazardous storm runoff, have made the stream unsafe. Where it emerges from underground below Rupp Arena, the Town Branch flows through Lexington’s oldest industrial area, crisscrossed by railroads and streets and bordered by private and sometimes seemingly abandoned properties.

“There have been oil refineries and hog farms along this stream,” Hoffacker said. “But it used to be so clean, there was a distillery that drew water from it.”

The Town Branch has been neglected, but students also saw in it a stream that winds past the stone walls and historical homes of Lexington’s settlers and ends up in the rolling horse pastures of the Bluegrass, with many accessible points.

“We could be reusing areas the that have been overlooked,” said Van Meter Pettit, a member of Friends of the Parks who has been very active in the greenway project.

The project faces some major hurdles, beginning with funding and the amount of privately-owned land along the stream. It could take years to acquire the land, Pettit said.

Friends of the Parks has begun a fundraising drive to raise money to acquire the land and construct the trail.

The 23 students who participated in the project were members of a fourth-year landscape architecture design studio, taught by assistant professor Krista Schneider. The department did a project on the new Lexington-Fayette County courthouse design alternatives last semester.

The 23 students who participated in the project were members of a fourth-year landscape architecture design studio, taught by assistant professor Krista Schneider. The department did a project on the new Lexington-Fayette County courthouse design alternatives last semester.