Second Sunday event previews design for Legacy Trail completion

October 7, 2014

2ndSunday 2014 Handout-R1This rendering shows the proposed design for completing the Legacy Trail along Fourth Street between Jefferson and Shropshire streets. One-street parking would be eliminated to create a 10-foot, two-way bicycle land and 10-12 foot lanes for cars and trucks. People can test the concept 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday during the annual Second Sunday event. Photo Provided

 

This year’s Second Sunday event will offer a preview of what planners propose as the design for finishing Lexington’s popular Legacy Trail: a two-way path along Fourth Street separated from automobile traffic.

The free public event is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, beginning at the corner of West Sixth and Jefferson Streets, at the Bread Box building and Coolivan Park. Festivities will include kids’ activities, but the main event will be bike riding, running, walking and skating on a coned-off lane of the south side of Fourth Street for 1.6 miles between there and the Isaac Murphy Art Garden under construction at East Third Street and Midland Avenue.

Eight miles of the Legacy Trail between the Northside YMCA and the Kentucky Horse Park were finished in 2010. But bringing the trail into town has been more complicated. The city secured $2.4 million in federal transportation funds to finish the trail, but it has taken time to work out all the details of bringing it into town.

Keith Lovan, a city engineer who oversees trail projects, said the cheapest and safest way to extend the trail across the Northside is what is known as a two-way cycle track on the street, separated from car and truck traffic by flexible posts.

To make room for the 10-foot-wide cycle track, on-street parking would be eliminated. Each car lane would still be 12 to 14 feet wide.

Sunday’s ride will extend to Shropshire Street, but Lovan said Elm Tree Lane and Race Streets also are being considered as ways to connect the Legacy Trail along Fourth Street to the art garden trailhead.

A citizens advisory committee of about 30 people has been mulling this design and other Legacy Trail issues. Detailed work will be done this winter and construction is to begin in the spring.

Lovan expects some controversy, because some on-street parking will be lost and because adding the trail will make street entry and exit from some driveways a little more complicated for drivers.

“I expect we’ll start hearing some of that Sunday,” Loven said of the Second Sunday event, when the trail will be marked off with orange cones. “We intend for this to reflect what the cycle track will look like.”

The hardest part of finishing the Legacy Trail, he said, “Will be getting the support to do this. We’ve had a lot of stakeholder meetings already.” Public meetings will be scheduled later this fall, and planners are going door-to-door talking with residents and businesses on affected streets, Lovan said.

The only other Lexington trail that uses this design is the short section of the Legacy Trail on the bridge over New Circle Road. In addition to cost-savings and improved safety, Lovan said, the two-way cycle track design has been shown in other cities to increase bicycle usage.

“These have been introduced across the country with great success,” said Loven, who oversaw design and construction of the rest of the Legacy Trail. “It provides the user a little more security. You don’t feel like you’re riding in traffic. But it’s more of a visual barrier than a protective barrier.”

I have ridden on cycle track in several American and European cities, and it feels safer for both cyclists and automobile drivers, because they are separated from each other.

When this is finished, there will be only one section of the original Legacy Trail left to do: a short connection between Jefferson Street and the YMCA. Lovan said the city has acquired an old rail line for part of that and is negotiating with the Hope Center to complete the connection. He expects that to be done next year.

The Legacy Trail demonstration marks the seventh year Lexington has participated in Second Sunday, a statewide effort to use existing built infrastructure to promote exercise and physical activity. In most communities, that has meant closing a street for a few hours so people can bike, walk, run or skate there.

The University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service started Second Sunday and has coordinated activities. The service plans to do several Second Sunday events next year, depending on grant funding, said spokeswoman Diana Doggett.

“We have a community that is willing and interested,” she said. “We just have to nudge that along.”


Plan would create 200 miles of multi-use trails in Scott County

July 15, 2014

legacyGabe Schmuck, 9, left, Nate Schmuck, 5, and their father, Paul Schmuck, rode on the Legacy Trail in Lexington in 2012. Photo by Mark Ashley.

GEORGETOWN — The popular Legacy Trail out of Lexington now stops just short of the Scott County line at the Kentucky Horse Park. But what is now the end of the trail could someday be just the beginning.

Scott County leaders have worked for three years with the regional visioning group Bluegrass Tomorrow and the National Park Service to develop an ambitious plan for Kentucky’s most extensive trails network. Plans call for 200 miles of biking, hiking, horseback riding and waterway trails throughout Scott County.

“Our vision is that this is going to eventually branch out and include the whole region,” said John Simpson, director of Georgetown/Scott County Tourism.

The Bluegrass Bike Hike Horseback Trails Alliance unveiled a draft of the proposed master plan Monday at the monthly meeting of the Georgetown/Scott County Chamber of Commerce.

Alliance leaders hope to finish the plan by the end of the year and begin negotiating property easements, designing trails, raising private money and applying for federal transportation grants.

Some trails would be shared, with bike/pedestrian and horse paths side-by-side, but most would be separate. The plan was developed with help from interested residents during a June 2013 design workshop, and the alliance is eager for more public participation.

At this point, there are no cost estimates, but such a trails network would run well into the millions of dollars. Still, many officials think it would be a great investment.

“This has the potential to have a tremendous impact, economically and socially, on the community,” said Russell Clark, the alliance’s National Park Service representative.

Clark and Rob Rumpke, president of Bluegrass Tomorrow, cited the economic impact that trail systems have had on Damascus, Va., a once-depressed logging town where hikers and mountain bikers now flock to the Appalachian and Virginia Creeper trails; Loveland, Ohio; and Indiana’s Brown County.

The trails alliance has more than a dozen partners, including the cities of Georgetown, Sadieville and Lexington; Scott County Fiscal Court; the state tourism department; the Horse Park; the Kentucky Horse Council; Georgetown College; the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture; the Bluegrass Area Development District; St. Joseph Health System/Kentucky One; and several horseback-riding and cycling groups.

Rumpke said horse trails should be especially popular, given the number of local horse enthusiasts and the tourists who come to Central Kentucky to see horse farms and events.

“We’re the horse capital of the world; why are there so few horseback-riding facilities?” he asked. “This is an opportunity to address that.”

The first step in the plan is to extend the Legacy Trail 6.6 miles from the horse park to Georgetown. Christie Robinson chairs a steering committee that commissioned an engineering feasibility study, which was recently completed. The study estimates the total cost at about $8.3 million, including trailheads, bathrooms and other amenities. It could be built in four phases as money became available.

Georgetown recently awarded the Legacy Trail committee $25,000 as a match to a $100,000 federal grant that it will apply for this fall, Robinson said. That would move the design process forward.

Claude Christensen, mayor of Sadieville, said he sees the trail system as an opportunity to revitalize his town of 303 people at the northern tip of Scott County. Sadieville is applying for “trail town” status with state tourism officials. But it needs trails.

“It’s huge for Sadieville,” Christensen said. “It makes us a destination.”

Simpson, the tourism official, said many Scott County business and government leaders support trails development because they have seen the economic benefit that road cycling enthusiasts have had in the area.

The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s annual Horsey Hundred ride each Memorial Day weekend is based at Georgetown College. This year, more than 2,000 cyclists came from all over North America to ride Central Kentucky’s scenic back roads on marked routes ranging from 25 to 104 miles.

Georgetown hosted a downtown party for the cyclists, who filled Georgetown College’s residence halls and more than half of the 1,100 local motel rooms. A big group from Ontario, Canada, came for an entire week of cycling before the event.

An extensive trail network, along with Central Kentucky’s world-class cycling roads, could make Georgetown a major recreation destination, Simpson said.

“We’re at the starting point of something that could be phenomenal,” he said. “It could bring thousands of tourists to our community and enhance our own quality of life.”


Baby Health Service celebrates 100 years of caring for kids

May 12, 2014

140407BabyHealth0038Alivia Cooper, 3, coughed so Dr. Tom Young, a pediatrician who has volunteered at Baby Health Service for 30 years, could listen to her chest with his stethoscope. The child’s mother brought her in because of respiratory problems. Photos by Tom Eblen. Old photos courtesy of Baby Health Service.

 

Baby Health Service has spent a century caring for some of Central Kentucky’s most vulnerable residents — and outgrowing its name.

A group of Lexington women started the Baby Milk Supply Association in 1914 to provide free milk to infants and toddlers of poor families, regardless of race. But Margaret Lynch, the first chief nurse, was soon making thousands of home visits and overseeing a free weekly clinic with volunteer doctors in an old downtown house.

The clinic was seeing 1,600 children a year by 1928 and 5,800 a year by 1957. The charity’s mission had grown so far beyond “milk supply” that the name was changed to Baby Health Service in 1959.

140407BabyHealth0006That name only begins to cover the scope of the organization that will celebrate its 100th anniversary May 31 with a fundraising dinner at Keeneland.

“The staying power of Baby Health speaks volumes, that we have been around for 100 years providing a service that is unique in our community,” said Kathleen Eastland, who chairs the organization’s board. “We can’t find another service quite like this in the United States.”

While America’s social safety net for low-income families has expanded over the years, most recently with the Affordable Care Act, there are still many children and teens who fall between the cracks. They include many refugees and immigrants.

Baby Health Service tries to fill those health care gaps. Last year, the organization served about 2,100 young people, from infants through age 17. Patients’ families must be low-income and not covered by private or government health insurance.

140407BabyHealth0002“You have a lot of people in between,” said Dr. Tom Young, a 30-year volunteer pediatrician at Baby Health who is now the organization’s chief executive. “We’re kind of a safety valve.”

Working on a shoestring budget, the mostly volunteer organization provides an impressive array of health services from basement space in an old office building beside Saint Joseph Hospital on Harrodsburg Road.

A small paid nursing staff and eight regular volunteer doctors have a clinic each weekday morning to treat sick children and do well-child exams. Several physician specialists donate their services when needed. Through various arrangements, the clinic also can provide free X-rays, lab tests and medications.

Baby Health’s 59 board members — all of whom are women —volunteer at least 12 two-hour shifts each year to do all of the clerical work and patient scheduling.

“It’s not written in the bylaws ‘no men,’ but in my years on the board it’s been all women,” said Eastland, whose mother was on the board before her. “I think it would be interesting to see if any men would break the barrier.”

Baby Health’s offices have a stash of clothing for children and adults and a book giveaway and lending program. The book program was started by a board member’s daughter and has been supported by the University of Kentucky law school.

Donations following the death of a board member allowed Baby Health in January to restart a monthly dental clinic with help from volunteer dentists and dental hygiene students at Blue Grass Community and Technical College.

Through a partnership with Save-a-Lot Food Stores, patients’ families can get $10 monthly vouchers for fresh fruits and vegetables. Baby Health nurses and volunteers do a lot of health education with families, including a fitness program for children and teens identified as in need of physical activity.

Baby Health soon hopes to start a telephone triage service, staffed by on-call nurses, to advise patients after-hours so they don’t just go to a hospital emergency rooms.

Thanks to all of the donated time and services, Baby Health’s annual budget is only $191,000, Eastland said. The organization gets no federal funding, and this year didn’t receive city support as it has in the past. Most of its funds come from grants and donations solicited by board members.

Although Young has been with Baby Health for 30 years, the senior volunteer physician is Dr. William Underwood, who has been a regular since 1966. Young said he introduced several of the other regular volunteers to Baby Health when they were residents working under him.

“Anybody who starts here usually continues here,” Young said. “That’s why we go into pediatrics, to take care of kids. And the families here really appreciate what we do for them.”

IF YOU GO

What: Baby Health Service’s 100th anniversary celebration

When: 6 p.m., May 31

Where: Keeneland

Cost: $125

More information: Babyhealthlexington.org, (859) 278-1781

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1910 Coal & Feed Co. building redone as corporate headquarters

February 24, 2014

140218BCWood0016Brian C. Wood, founder and CEO of BC Wood Properties, stands in the lobby of the company’s headquarters as Jeannette Crank works behind the front desk and a meeting is conducted in a second-floor conference room. Wood said the renovated circa 1910 Elmendorf Coal & Feed Co. building has been a perfect space for the business. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

A couple of years ago, Brian Wood, the founder and CEO of BC Wood Properties, took the company’s president, King Offutt, down West Fourth Street to show him where Transylvania University, his alma mater, was building new athletic fields.

That part of town was beginning to see dramatic change, including conversion of the huge Eastern State Hospital property into a new campus for Bluegrass Community and Technical College.

While driving around, they turned down Henry Street, a byway that connects to West Third Street. It runs along railroad tracks and old grain elevators near Newtown Pike.

Then they saw it: a hulk of a brick building. It had been built in 1910 by the legendary millionaire horseman James Ben Ali Haggin to house his Elmendorf Coal & Feed Co. Since then, though, it had suffered at least two fires and years of vacancy.

“We had been looking for a building for a couple of years” to house the growing company’s headquarters, Offutt said. “We wanted a building with character.”

140218BCWood0032At the time, the company worked out of Eastland Shopping Center, one of more than 30 retail properties with 5.5 million square feet of space that BC Wood Properties now owns and manages in eight states.

“It was love at first sight,” Wood said of the three-story building. “A diamond in the rough.”

After they looked around the outside and in a few windows, Offutt reached for his cellphone and called the owner. “We want to buy your building,” he said.

Considerable work and a couple of million dollars later, BC Wood Properties has one of the coolest office spaces in Lexington: foot-thick, exposed brick walls; warm wood everywhere, including massive hewn posts and beams; big windows that fill the space with natural light.

The company’s in-house construction experts did most of the renovation. Local craftsmen made long trestle tables for shared conference space between offices and custom metal signs.

140218BCWood0025A huge wooden sliding door was preserved on one wall. Casual seating around the building includes old wooden pews bought on eBay from a Wisconsin church. The façade along Henry Street preserves the painted sign for another long-ago tenant, Central Kentucky Blue Grass Seed Co.

“It works really well,” Offutt said of the building. “It’s certainly improved morale among our employees. They love the building and coming to work in it.”

The building had a modern metal addition on the back, which Wood turned into an employee gym and basketball court. The company pays for a fitness trainer to come in three times a week to work with employees, and the benefit has proven popular, he said.

Preserving the building’s industrial character was their approach to the renovation, Wood said.

“We wanted to keep the essential historical nature, and not try to turn it into something it’s not,” Wood said, noting that is a key principle of the company itself.

Wood started BC Wood Properties 20 years ago and has focused on a specific niche: modest shopping centers in high-traffic locations where middle-class people shop regularly for things they need to live. He said the strategy has worked well: its properties remained more than 90 percent leased throughout the economic slump.

It also helps that the company handles all management, construction and maintenance in-house, rather than outsourcing it, to ensure that properties stay in good shape. That requires a strong team, Wood said, which includes a full-time staff of 18 in Lexington and another 14 employees elsewhere.

Last year, the company raised a $43 million private equity fund for acquisitions, about one-third of it from local investors. That allowed it to purchase 11 shopping centers in five states last year, Wood said.

Wood and Offutt are both 41-year-old Lexington natives, and they said they enjoy being part of the revitalization of Lexington’s northwest end.

“This building reflects who we are,” Wood said. “We didn’t want a high-rise presence. We enjoy being on Henry Street beside grain bins and Blue Stallion Brewery. This is us.”

Added Offutt: “This area is going to change so much in the next five years, it’s going to be fun to watch.”

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Lexmark engineer builds custom bicycle frames in his spare time

February 3, 2014

140130AlexMeade-TE0015

Alex Meade checks angles to precisely fit two steel tubes for a bicycle frame he is building for a customer. A lifelong rider, Meade, 55, started building frames in 1999. Photos by Tom Eblen

 

If you want a cheap bicycle, go to a discount store.

If you want a well-made bicycle, go to a local bike shop.

If you want the bicycle of your dreams, go to Alex Meade.

Meade, a mechanical engineer at Lexmark, has developed a national reputation for his side business as a craftsman of custom-fitted, handmade bicycle frames. He makes about six bicycle frames a year in the shop behind his Ashland Park home. He also makes frame-building tools for other bike-makers around the world.

“I grew up on a bicycle,” said Meade, 55, a California native who spent his youth in coastal Massachusetts where summer tourist traffic made biking a family necessity because it was all but impossible to get anywhere by car.

Meade fell in love with road cycling after he moved to Lexington in 1989 to work for IBM, the predecessor of Lexmark.

“Kentucky is just such a wonderful place to ride,” he said. “We have thousands of miles of bike trails we call country roads.”

After moving here, Meade also took up the sport of randonneuring —long-distance group rides made within a specified length of time.

In 2007, he finished fourth among U.S. riders in the sport’s most famous event, Paris-Brest-Paris in France. He completed the 762-mile ride in 55 hours, 49 minutes and became one of only 39 Americans to earn membership in the Société de Charly Miller, which honors the first American to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 1901.

Meade started building bicycle frames about 15 years ago.

“It seemed like an obvious thing to do for a mechanical engineer interested in cycling,” said Meade, who has a master’s degree from Stanford University and a dozen patents.

140130AlexMeade-TE0023His first project was a commuter bike, which he still rides on the eight-mile, round-trip commute to Lexmark almost every workday, year-around. He made a few bikes for friends, then others started approaching him.

All of Meade’s bike frames are made of high-tech steel alloys, which are both strong and lightweight. Most tube sets are joined together by fancy steel lugs, the way all bikes used to be made. Lug construction is a slower, but more elegant construction method than tig welding.

One component that isn’t high-tech is the bicycle seat. Like many long-distance cyclists, Meade prefers Brooks saddles from England. The design has changed little since production began in 1882: a thick hunk of leather stretched across a steel frame, providing a subtle trampoline effect.

Meade said customers come to him because they can’t find what they want or need at a bike shop. Some are looking for a unique design or paint job. But most want a custom fit, either because they are very tall, short or have an unusually shaped body, or because they do randonneuring or long-distance touring.

Precise bicycle fit is the most important factor in biking comfort. Meade’s construction process begins with a three-hour fitting and measuring session in his workshop.

The key is getting the right proportions in the triangle of seat, handlebars and pedals. Based on those measurements and other customer requests — fenders? racks? tire width? — Meade designs the frame.

“The average bike takes one visit and about 400 emails to design,” he said with a laugh. “Everything’s got to be completely nailed down before we cut any tubes or buy any parts.”

Meade’s hand-building process takes anywhere from 35 to 60 hours, depending on the frame’s complexity. All bikes except those made of stainless steels need painting or powder-coating. Meade leaves that work to two local experts: painter Dean Eichorn and Armstrong Custom Powder Coating in Harrodsburg.

Meades’ prices vary depending on design and materials, but he said an average frame costs between $1,900 and $2,700, plus wheels, components and other parts. That’s in the neighborhood of many standard-sized road bikes made of carbon fibre, the most popular modern material for high-end road bike frames. More information: Alexmeade.com.

“I don’t make much money on this,” Meade said. “It’s a labor of love. It’s not a way to support a family.”

 

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Author’s talks will focus on making cities more walkable

January 13, 2014

Urban planners, who in the decades after World War II helped redesign America’s cities and towns around the automobile, have been trying to warn people ever since then that they really screwed up.

Finally, most people are beginning to agree, says Jeff Speck, a veteran city planner and author of the 2012 book Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time.

Health professionals cite car culture as a big reason an epidemic in obesity and related physical problems. Economists note that suburban sprawl has become costly to taxpayers because all of the new infrastructure rarely pays for itself. Plus, a lack of public transportation in many areas has put costly burdens of car ownership and maintenance on the working poor.

bookcoverThe environmental movement has had an anti-urban bent since the days of Thomas Jefferson and Henry David Thoreau. But that has changed dramatically.

“And all of a sudden environmentalists discovered that if you live in a city your footprint is much lighter than if you live in sprawl,” Speck said. “In fact, cities are a solution to our environmental crises, both locally and globally.”

Most of all, Speck says, average citizens, from young adults to their empty-nester parents, have embraced cities again. Across the country, home values in walkable, urban neighborhoods are rising much faster than those in the kinds of car-dependent suburbs that have dominated American development since the 1950s.

“Walkable cities actually save us money, make us money and are poised to thrive in the next couple of decades while unwalkable places aren’t,” Speck said in a telephone interview last week from his home in Washington, D.C.

Speck will be talking about these trends — and giving advice to community leaders about how to make their towns more walkable — at a lecture and workshop this week in Frankfort.

Speck will give a lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Grand Theatre on St. Clair Mall, with a book signing to follow. Tickets are $10. On Friday, he will lead a two-hour workshop, beginning at 9 a.m., at the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Auditorium, 200 Mero St. Admission is $25.

His visit is part of a conference sponsored by the Kentucky Heritage Council in conjunction with the annual winter meeting of the Kentucky Main Street Program, which works to improve life in the historic centers of the state’s towns and cities. Conference registration, including both of Speck’s sessions, is $100. More information: Heritage.ky.gov.

Most people don’t need convincing about the importance of walkability, he said, but they do need help with strategies for making it happen.

speckSpeck’s book notes that many communities made walking more difficult because they were being designed for other considerations. For example, many streets and intersections are oversized to accommodate the largest-possible emergency vehicles. Fewer but bigger schools and parks have been built because they are easier for officials to maintain and show off than the alternative, which often would be easier for citizens to get to and use.

“The twin gods of smooth traffic and ample parking” took the life out of many once-thriving downtowns, Speck writes, turning them into places that are “easy to get to but not worth arriving at.”

Speck writes that there are four criteria for successful pedestrian areas: walking must be safe, comfortable, interesting and useful. By useful, he means that necessities of daily life — shopping, restaurants and workplaces — must be close and arranged so they can be easily accessed by walking.

Speck’s book outlines 10 steps for city walkability. Those include mixed-use neighborhoods, good mass transit, well-designed and affordable parking facilities, ample trees and bicycle-friendly streets.

The biggest challenge many American cities and towns will face in coming years will be retrofitting mid- and late-20th century suburbs to make them more accessible for aging Baby Boomers and the working poor.

“We’ve laid the groundwork for a major social crisis,” he said.

The best hope is often restoring traditional downtowns and making new developments better for walking, biking and mass transit. That will require changing many ingrained rules and attitudes about traffic and street design.

“Most traffic engineers are really nice people,” Speck said. “But they will wreck your city.”  

Watch Jeff Speck’s TED Talk on walkable cities:


Kentucky realizing conservation can be economic development

November 16, 2013

IRVINE — Kentuckians are beginning to realize that developing natural resources means more than looking for things to chop down, dig up and export.

In some cases, economic development can be as simple as thinking about what you like about your community — a beautiful landscape, an interesting culture — and figuring out how to attract more people there to enjoy it.

One great example is the proposed Kentucky River Water Trail. The idea is to clean up the 256-mile river and make it more accessible for paddling, fishing and other kinds of outdoor recreation. And figure out how communities along the river can profit from it.

watertraillogoThe Kentucky River Water Trail Alliance, which is organizing the effort, met last week in Estill County. The meeting attracted about 75 citizens in addition to state, local and federal officials.

“I’ve always thought the Kentucky River was one of the greatest natural resources Estill County has,” said Judge-Executive Wallace Taylor. “It’s something we need to better utilize.”

The idea has gotten a boost since Gov. Steve Beshear nominated the river trail as one of two Kentucky projects for America’s Great Outdoors, a federal initiative to bring a “21st century approach” to conservation and outdoor recreation. (The other Kentucky project is the Dawkins Line Rail Trail in Johnson and Magoffin counties.)

From three Eastern Kentucky forks that meet at Beattyville, the Kentucky River flows into Central Kentucky below Lexington, through Frankfort and into the Ohio River at Carrollton.

From pioneer days until railroads took over in the early 1900s, the river was a vital commercial artery — taking flour, whiskey and tobacco from Central Kentucky to New Orleans, and later timber and coal from Eastern Kentucky to the Bluegrass.

But for decades, the Kentucky River has been mostly ignored, aside from its role as a water supply. Locks and dams that turned the free-flowing river into a series of 14 pools more than a century ago were all but abandoned until recently, when the Kentucky River Authority began rebuilding them.

Many people think the river has enormous recreation and tourism potential because it is so scenic, especially around the limestone cliffs south of Lexington known as the Palisades.

“I’ve probably traveled 10,000 miles by water all over the country,” said Jerry Graves, the Kentucky River Authority’s executive director, “and the Kentucky River Palisades is as pretty as it gets.”

Attracting more visitors will involve several steps: cleaning up the river through volunteer efforts such as the annual Kentucky River Clean Sweep, the third Saturday of each June, and water-quality monitoring by Kentucky River Watershed Watch. Counties must build ramps, docks and portages for canoes, kayaks and fishing boats.

Another key element is adding and promoting visitor services — restaurants, bed-and-breakfast inns, outfitters and other stores, plus museums, historic sites, craft shops and cultural attractions. The final step is providing information about all of those things through websites, field guides and signs.

The Kentucky Tourism, Arts & Heritage Cabinet has a Trail Towns program to help communities figure out how to generate business by catering to visitors at nearby water, bike, horse and hiking trails. A couple of towns have gone through the program, and several more have applied, most recently Hazard.

Elaine Wilson, who directs the state’s Adventure Tourism program, explained the concept at last week’s meeting by citing the example of Damascus, Va., which was a declining lumber town until it built a new economy around the nearby Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper bike trail, a former railroad line.

That example resonated with me, because about 15 friends and I went to Damascus last summer during a week-long bike trip in Virginia and North Carolina. We had a great time — and made a healthy contribution to the local economy. We plan to make a similar trip every summer, and it would be great if we had some Kentucky destinations to choose from that are as developed as others in the Southeast.

Damascus could provide a good example for places like Irvine and adjacent Ravenna, which have struggled since the Louisville & Nashville Railroad went away. Irvine already has a charming old downtown beside the river, historic resources such as Fitchburg Furnace and Estill Springs and delicious, down-home cooking at Rader’s River Grill.

The state’s Adventure Tourism initiative makes a lot of sense. Some people criticize the effort, saying it’s no “big solution” for depressed rural economies. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

Big economic-development solutions are few and far between. Small-scale, entrepreneurial industries may be the best hope for Kentucky small towns and rural areas hoping to built sustainable, post-industrial economies.

Extraction industries run out of minerals to extract. Factories move away for cheaper labor. But natural resources such as scenic rivers and mountains can pay long-term dividends if wisely developed — and protected.


Former Disney exec highlights value of natural beauty in cities

October 27, 2013

warner

Katy Moss Warner, center, who once led the American Horticulture Society, was in Lexington last week to promote the economic and aesthetic benefits to city landscape beautification. At a workshop with Lexington leaders Thursday, she talked with Kay Cannon, left, and Ellen Karpf. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Beautiful landscapes enrich a city — well-tended flowers, trees, gardens and lawns. But when money is tight, it is easy to see them as frills, as costs to be cut.

What is the value of beauty? What is the cost of ugly?

The answer to both questions, says Katy Moss Warner, former president of the American Horticulture Society, is a lot.

Warner spent last week touring Lexington, speaking and meeting with people as an unpaid guest of Friends of the Arboretum and the Fayette County Master Gardeners.

Warner has a degree in landscape architecture and was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. But she said she learned the economic value of beautiful landscapes during the 24 years she spent supervising a staff of 700 as director of horticulture and environmental initiatives at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Disney spends millions each year on advertising and new attractions to lure new visitors. Warner said she struggled to prove the economic return on investing in landscape until visitor surveys revealed some interesting facts: 75 percent of Disney World’s visitors were repeat customers. Why did they keep returning?

“Atmosphere,” she said. “The beauty of the landscape. This is helpful information not just for Walt Disney World but for cities. If cities are beautiful, people will come back. Horticulture can drive revenue.”

At a lecture Wednesday, Warner said many people have “plant blindness” — they often don’t notice the plants around them or realize their value. We move so fast in our daily lives that we fail to notice “the subtle music that truly is the beauty of nature.”

Many cities think plants are nice, but not necessary. Study after study shows they are wrong, she said.

When a city’s public and private spaces are clean and well-landscaped, people tend to be happier, healthier and care more about their neighbors and community. Urban tree canopies reduce energy costs and calm traffic. Indoor plants filter pollution and make people feel better. Good landscaping increases property values.

In places that are ugly, barren or junky, where there is a lot of noise and artificial light pollution, crime goes up and private investment goes down. People understand, consciously or subconsciously, that they don’t want to be there.

“Schools are probably the most derelict landscapes we have,” Warner said. “We design them like prisons.”

But schools are a perfect place to teach children the importance of natural beauty with school vegetable and flower gardens, and planting trees as legacies.

Studies have shown that gardens make good learning environments, especially for students who struggle in structured classrooms. Warner said the most popular attraction at Disney’s Epcot is the vegetable and hydroponic gardens at the Land Pavilion.

Warner is a board member and volunteer for the non-profit organization America in Bloom, which helps cities learn beautification strategies from one another. At a Thursday workshop, she made a pitch for Lexington to participate.

The workshop at the University of Kentucky was attended by Vice Mayor Linda Gorton; three more Urban County Council members; Sally Hamilton, the city’s chief administrative officer; and more than 40 leaders in Lexington’s landscape, horticulture and sustainable agriculture movements. Earlier in the week, Warner met with Mayor Jim Gray.

This was Warner’s first visit to Lexington. She remarked on what a clean city it is for its size, in both affluent and not-so-affluent neighborhoods. She also was impressed by local food and recycling programs, and by good examples of historic preservation and adaptive reuse of old buildings.

In an interview afterward, I asked Warner what she would do to improve Lexington. Her observations were perceptive, especially considering she had spent only three days looking around.

“I think it’s a shame that so much of the historic fabric has been lost downtown, but those spaces offer an opportunity to bring back character through horticulture,” she said, adding that she thinks the Town Branch Commons plan is brilliant. “That could really be a signature for the city.”

Warner thinks Lexington also has a lot of opportunity for beautification by planting native plants, community gardens, installing rooftop greenhouses and by protecting existing assets such as the majestic, centuries-old trees that dot the landscape.

Lexington seems to have fewer walking paths and biking trails than other cities its size, Warner said, so there is an opportunity to create more of them to get people outside and closer to the landscape.

“As a community you also seem to have amazing talent, an amazing spirit, an amazing history,” she said. “I do believe that it takes the whole community to make the community beautiful.”


Tour de Paris event Oct. 19 offers chance to bike Paris Pike

October 8, 2013

One of the best-designed and most beautiful highways in America is U.S. 27-68 between Lexington and Paris. It has only one problem: no bicycle lanes.

Tour de Paris logoThat is why cyclists should be excited about the Tour de Paris on Oct. 19. For the first time ever, one lane of Paris Pike in each direction will be closed between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. for police-escorted rides between the two cities.

Loop rides of 24.2 miles and 13.4 miles begin at 9 a.m. at the Bourbon County Courthouse in Paris. Registration is $15 in advance, $20 that day. More information: (859) 987-6237 or ParisBourbonYMCA.org.

A free family fun ride around downtown Paris begins at 10:30 a.m. to showcase historic attractions and the city’s new bike lanes. The event is sponsored by the Paris Main Street Program, the Paris-Bourbon County YMCA and Quillen Leather & Tack.

The Tour de Paris is a brilliant idea. I hope it becomes an annual event.


Officials open extension of Lexington’s first recreational rail trail

September 30, 2013

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Mayor Jim Gray gets help from Maya Wijesiri, 3, and her mother, Wendy Wijesiri, in cutting the ribbon opening the second phase of the Brighton East Rail Rail.  Photo by Tom Eblen

Lexington officials Monday opened the first extension of the the Brighton East Trail, Fayette County’s first rail trail.

The 12-foot-wide recreational trail had run a mile from Bryant Road to Pleasant Ridge Drive, through the new residential neighborhoods around Hamburg. The one-mile extension takes the trail along an old railroad bed into the country as far as Walnut Grove Road.

The original trail, completed in 2007, has been so popular that area residents wanted the extension, said district Council member Kevin Stinnett. As Stinnett, Mayor Jim Gray and Council member Harry Clarke prepared to cut the ribbon on the new section, people from the area were already using it for running, cycling and taking children for stroller rides.

Eventually, city officials hope to extend the trail out to the Clark County line and in to connect with the Liberty Park Trail.

The trail extension was funded by $450,000 in federal, state and local money. But key to the project was an easement donation, 100 feet wide and one-mile long, by property owner Marion Clark. She made the donation because she realized what a good amenity the trail would be to future development of her property, said Keith Lovan, the city engineer who heads local trail projects.

The wide easement allowed the city to preserve existing trees from the old rail line, as well as plant more trees to keep the trail pleasantly shaded in hot weather.

Many other states have developed extensive trail systems using abandoned rail lines. But that has been difficult in Kentucky, because abandoned rail lines were often acquired by adjacent property owners.

Parking for the new trail is at Pleasant Ridge Park, 1350 Pleasant Ridge Drive.


West Liberty’s tornado recovery plan a model for other towns

May 11, 2013

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com

Morgan County’s strategic plan for rebuilding from a March 2012 tornado includes encouraging super energy-efficient construction of new homes and commercial buildings to lower operating costs. Habitat for Humanity has already built several such homes in Morgan and neighboring Rowan counties. This one was under construction in January. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Each time I have visited West Liberty since the devastating tornado, people have expressed determination to rebuild. But they didn’t just want to put things back the way they were; they wanted to use the disaster to reposition their community for the future.

The Morgan County seat had been hurting for years before the twister, which killed six people on March 2, 2012. West Liberty was like so many other small towns that have struggled to adapt to the loss of cash crops and factories.

Last week, after more than a year of study and work, West Liberty leaders unveiled a new strategic plan for their community. It is a creative, forward-looking plan designed to attract national attention and support. If successful, it could serve as a model for struggling small towns throughout Kentucky and across America. (Click here to download a copy of the plan.)

“I’m very excited about it,” said Hank Allen, CEO of Commercial Bank in West Liberty and president of the Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. “There is such a will to rebuild, to not only get back to where we were but to be better than we were.”

One key aspect of the plan follows the lead of Greensburg, Kansas, which was wiped out by a 2007 tornado and attracted national attention by rebuilding using the latest energy-efficient technology.

West Liberty’s energy-efficient reconstruction plans include replacement houses with “passive” design and construction, which can cut energy costs as much as 70 percent over conventional construction. Habitat for Humanity has already built several such homes in the area.

The downtown business district also would be rebuilt using energy-efficient construction, including a geothermal loop that many buildings could share to lower their heating and cooling costs.

Allen says he thinks that will be one of the biggest factors in recreating a viable downtown. Rent was cheap in the old buildings the tornado blew away. But reconstruction will be expensive, pushing rents beyond what many mom-and-pop businesses can afford.

Commercial Bank is kicking off the geothermal loop as part of its headquarters reconstruction. Allen said designs are almost complete for a new bank building that should be certified LEED Gold. The pre-tornado bank building cost about $4,000 to $5,000 a month to heat and cool, but Allen estimates the new one will cost about $1,500 a month.

The bank building will include about 1,800 square feet of incubator space on its first floor to help small local businesses get back on their feet, Allen said.

The strategic plan also calls for encouraging downtown to be rebuilt with mixed-use structures housing businesses, offices, restaurants and apartments. That would create a more lively downtown with lower rents because of more efficient use of space.

Plans also call for installing free wireless service downtown to attract businesses and people in a region where wi-fi availability is now limited.

The strategic plan’s economic development initiatives have a big focus on eco-tourism, built around Morgan County’s natural beauty and local assets such as the Licking River, Cave Run and Paintsville lakes, and nearby destinations such as the Red River Gorge.

There would be encouragement for entrepreneurs to start businesses focusing on kayaking, rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, fishing and hunting. Plans also call for developing walking and biking trails along the Licking River through West Liberty.

Other economic development ideas in the plan also focus on existing strengths, such as trying to use the local ambulance service and hospital to develop new methods for rural health-care delivery.

The strategic plan grew out of a partnership among the city, Morgan County, local businesses, Morehead State University’s Innovation and Commercialization Center and the nonprofit Regional Technology and Innovation Center.

Midwest Clean Energy Enterprise LLC of Lexington was a consultant on the process. Jonathan Miller, a clean-energy advocate and former state treasurer, has been retained to help raise money nationally for the effort by promoting it as a model for small-town revitalization.

The Morgan County Community Fund, an affiliate of the Blue Grass Community Foundation, has been set up to help collect and distribute donations for the rebuilding effort.

These efforts got a big jump-start in February, when Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced a package of about $30 million in federal, state and private money for various rebuilding projects.

“That really opened people’s eyes to what is possible,” Allen said of the financial package. “As a community, we must think really, really large. But we have a long way to go.”


State bicycle summit planned, and money available for projects

March 26, 2013

I have been bicycling in the countryside for fun and exercise for nearly two decades. One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2013 was to make most of my short, in-town trips by bicycle once spring arrived.

Spring arrived last Wednesday. Despite below-freezing temperatures in the morning and a cold afternoon wind, two trips downtown and one to the University of Kentucky campus went well. Since then, it has snowed. And snowed.

Oh well, one of these days the weather will catch up to the calendar. When it does, more Kentuckians will be looking to bicycles as a means of transportation, an enjoyable form of exercise and even a vehicle for economic development.

To jump-start those efforts, the Kentucky Rails to Trails Council and several other organizations are planning the first Kentucky Walk Bike Summit, April 11 and 12 at the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort.

WalkBikeThe summit was modeled after the Lexington Bike Summit that Mayor Jim Newberry’s administration helped put together in 2007. It gave momentum to several Lexington efforts, including new bike lanes and the highly popular Legacy Trail.

Bill Gorton, a Lexington lawyer who is chairman of the state Bicycle and Bikeways Commission, said the goal of the summit is to share stories and strategies about successful projects around the state with people in other communities who want to do their own.

“We want to create a place where people get together and meet other people and share the stories about how they made these things happen,” Gorton said. “We’re hoping some of the smaller communities will work with the Transportation Cabinet and other sources of funding and say, ‘You know what, we can do that!'”

Among an extensive list of speakers and panelists are Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson, a cyclist who as Louisville mayor began a 100-mile trail around the city; Transportation Cabinet Secretary Mike Hancock; David Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists; and representatives of state cycling groups and the Federal Highway Administration.

Gorton said the Transportation Cabinet has become more supportive of bike lanes and trails, such as the one connecting Lexington and Wilmore that was built along old U.S. 68 when the road was widened several years ago.

“It took the engineer in the district to say, ‘Hey, we can do that,'” Gorton said. “But these things need continued attention and advocacy.”

In addition to making existing roads safer for cyclists, Gorton said recreational trails can become important economic development assets. They are a part of the Beshear administration’s focus on “adventure tourism.”

One such effort involves converting abandoned rail lines into trails. Kentucky has only about 30 miles of those trails scattered around the state, and most are short. The most ambitious project now under way is the Dawkins Line, which would be a 36-mile trail in Breathitt, Johnson and Magoffin counties.

“There’s lots to see and experience in rural Kentucky, and by creating a destination like that, it can serve as the nucleus of other tourist activities,” Gorton said. “If you could link these with Kentucky State Parks, which are some of the best in the nation, there are great opportunities. You’ve got to have people see the potential.”

For more information and to register for the Kentucky Walk Bike Summit, go to Kywalkbikesummit.com.

I see the tourism potential for road cycling in Central Kentucky every Memorial Day weekend, when I run a rest stop at the annual Horsey Hundred ride. The Bluegrass Cycling Club, of which I am a member, has sponsored the two-day recreational ride for 35 years.

The Horsey Hundred is two days of supported rides of between 26 and 100 miles. The event attracts about 2,000 participants each year. I have met people at the Horsey who came from across North America, including a big group of Canadians who spend more than a week each year riding our back roads (and spending money at our hotels, restaurants and stores).

The Bluegrass Cycling Club makes money on the Horsey and gives most of it away to bicycle-related philanthropic projects in Central Kentucky. Grants are in the $2,000 to $4,000 range. For more information about applying, go to Bgcycling.org. The application deadline for this funding cycle is May 15.

Surely by then the snow will be gone.


Two Kentuckians turn their passions into business opportunities

February 18, 2013

Alex Brooks left Lexington for two years of graduate school in England, where he studied book conservation. He has returned and started what may be Kentucky’s only company that conserves old books for individuals and libraries. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

Work is more rewarding when you find a way to turn your passion into a business opportunity. Kentuckians Alex Brooks and Debra Koerner are doing just that, at different points in their lives and with technology from different centuries.

Brooks, 31, grew up in Louisville and discovered creative writing in high school. He made his first book for poems he wrote. As a Gaines Fellow in the Humanities at the University of Kentucky, he earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing.

While at UK, Brooks discovered the King Library Press and learned letterpress printing, which led to him creating block-print art. He also worked in UK Special Collections, which interested him in book conservation.

After college, Brooks acquired some antique printing equipment and operated Press 817, a one-man company that produced everything from wedding invitations to his own block prints. His career took another turn when he won a Fulbright Scholarship to study in England. While there, he earned a master’s degree in book conservation at West Dean College.

Brooks returned to Lexington in October and started Alex Brooks Conservation to restore and conserve old books, from rare library specimens to family Bibles.

“The idea in my work is to keep as much of the original as possible,” Brooks said as he showed me a leather-bound volume from the 1830s about horse care that he is repairing for the Keeneland Library.

What he doesn’t try to do is make old books look new, by bleaching pages or replacing old bindings that still have a lot of original fabric. That might make them look good for a few years, but their historical value would be diminished.

“I’m not trying to make a book look like it was never damaged in the first place,” he said, “but to prevent it from further damage and make it usable.”

There is a lot of need for book conservation in Kentucky, yet there are few conservators.

“That’s one of the reasons I chose to move back to Lexington,” Brooks said. “I know the need is out there, but I’m not sure that the finances for that need will be out there.”

Brooks charges about $300 to refurbish a family Bible. Other work is $30 an hour, plus materials. (For more information, email Brooks at alexbrooks@gmail.com.)

In addition to doing work for institutions and collectors, Brooks hopes to build a client base from industries such as Thoroughbred horses and bourbon that realize heritage is important to their brands.

Brooks will be sharing his skills at the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning, where he will teach bookbinding classes March 2 and 16. Learn more at Carnegiecenterlex.org.

Debra Koerner has started a mid-career television production company to make a health and wellness series for Public Broadcasting called “Journey Into Wellbeing.” Photo provided

Koerner, 45, had written a book about success, been executive director of a spa organization and started a wellness education company. But she had always dreamed of a television career.

“That got me to thinking: if I was going to have a TV show, what am I most passionate about?” she said. “Where can I make a difference?”

Koerner describes herself as a “pudgy insomniac” and former stressed-out working mother. So she decided to borrow from her own experiences to show viewers how they could use local resources to make themselves healthier and happier.

She started a production company and created a self-funded pilot episode of Journey into Wellbeing. The show is planned as a state-by-state series, focusing on creative local wellness initiatives and resources. She gives viewers tips for healthy eating, exercise, natural health care and sustainable living.

The pilot episode focused on Kentucky and will air Tuesday on KET2 and 10 more times through March 21 on Kentucky Educational Television.

In the pilot episode, shot in October, Koerner interviews several Kentucky health experts and travels around the state. She visits an organic farm in Oldham County and Frontier Nursing University in Leslie County. She consults with a doctor and a fitness expert from Lexington and gets advice from a Louisville chef about how to prepare healthier versions of two Kentucky favorites, the hot Brown and corn pudding.

“Every state has great health initiatives, but they are not getting the focus they deserve,” Koerner said. “I also hope my story impresses (viewers) to attempt something they’ve been thinking about and wanting to do. It can happen.”

 

 


Lexington’s ‘big idea’ for contest leverages citizen engagement

September 22, 2012

When Mayor Jim Gray decided Lexington should enter Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge competition for innovative ideas to improve cities, he asked local citizens for their suggestions. He was impressed by the response.

More than 7,000 people participated in the process, and 420 ideas were formally submitted. Many of those ideas for improving Lexington were good, even if some didn’t fit the Bloomberg criteria.

Then it dawned on Gray and his staff: The “big idea” was the citizen-engagement process itself.

So, earlier this month, Lexington joined 393 other cities in submitting ideas to Bloomberg in the hope of winning a $5 million first prize or one of four $1 million second prizes to help make their ideas reality.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will choose 20 cities as finalists in December. The winners will be announced in early 2013.

Lexington’s proposal is called CitizenLex.org. It involves creating an online platform with city data and reports to help citizens identify problems, then aggregate and manage their ideas for solving them.

CitizenLex.org will be a “collecting tank and control tower” to organize and manage ideas as well as connect people and organizations within the community. Efforts will focus on seven key areas: crime, housing, social services, aging and the community, health, education and jobs.

The basic idea is that government often functions best not as a problem-solver but as the facilitator of problem-solving by businesses, non-profit organizations, churches, community groups, entrepreneurs and volunteers.

“It’s a powerful idea,” the city’s application says, “that serving up government transparency in a social-media platform can fuel citizen engagement and improve a city.”

So, is this more than just a high-tech suggestion box?

“You mean the black hole? Yes,” Gray said. “We recognized that the big idea is not just the ideas but the continuous engagement of citizens in the process. It’s using technology to push the fabric of democratic process. It’s about partnerships and good management, and the platform helps you manage.”

If Lexington wins money from Bloomberg, the application said it would be used to develop CitizenLex.org, pay a “director of city innovation” to manage the process and fund some initial projects that grew out of citizens’ suggestions for the competition.

Those projects are:

 Expand the Better Bites healthy-food program now at city park concession stands into local schools to reach more kids.

 Create more bicycle lanes and walking trails to improve local health.

 Expand the Fayette County Public Schools’ Delivery-to-Diploma program with a focus on expanding early childhood education.

 Partner with the University of Kentucky’s True Lean program in the College of Engineering to use Toyota-Lean management principles to improve efficiency in city government.

Gray and his staff plan to have much of this work under way before Bloomberg Philanthropies even chooses its winners.

CirrusMio, a new technology development company in Lexington, is already working on the online platform. City officials also have begun forming partnerships for the projects with UK, the Blue Grass Community Foundation, the Fayette County Public Schools and other organizations.

(An interesting side note: The Bloomberg application asks when the mayor’s term ends. Lexington responded that Gray’s first term ends Dec. 31, 2014, “but he is interested in a second or third term.” The Urban County Charter limits a mayor to three consecutive terms.)

Gray said he thinks Lexington has a good shot at being a Mayors Challenge winner.

“If they’re measuring success to date, learning to date, engagement, innovation and creativity to date, I think we’ve got a good chance of a least making the top 20,” Gray said, adding that even if Lexington doesn’t get Bloomberg money he will try to find ways to do most of this project. “It makes too much sense not to.”

That is the challenge. Gathering good ideas is one thing; making them happen is quite another.

 

Watch Lexington’s Bloomberg Mayors Challenge entry video:

Bloomberg Mayors Challenge: Lexington, KY from Bullhorn on Vimeo.


Woodford adventure center expands programs, public profile

August 15, 2012


Mikhail Proctor assisted McKayla Gardner in a vaulting move on Diesel, a Thoroughbred/Clydesdale cross, in the indoor equestrian arena at Adventure Center of the Bluegrass in Woodford County. Photo by Tom Eblen

 

VERSAILLES — For an organization with a 575-acre campus that serves about 12,000 people a year with a wide variety of activities, Life Adventure Center of the Bluegrass is not very well known.

“We call ourselves the best-kept secret in Central Kentucky, and that is probably true,” said Byron Marlowe, one of the program directors. “I grew up in Nicholasville and had never heard of it before I came to work here.”

The non-profit center traces its roots to the Cleveland Home, a Versailles orphanage started in the late 1800s, and Life Adventure Camp, created in Estill County in 1975 to instill confidence and self-esteem in at-risk youth.

The center now has a broad mission statement: It “engages, educates, and empowers our community to build respect, responsibility, and self-esteem through teamwork, communication, and environmental stewardship using hands-on learning in a natural setting.”

The center has started several programs aligned with that mission, and it is trying to raise its public profile, Marlowe said. The center has a new Web site (Lifeadventurecenter.org), is about to hire a new executive director and is expanding its programs.

The center will host its first adventure race, the Bluegrass Challenge, on Aug. 25. Teams of two or three people will race by hiking, canoeing and mountain biking to complete a series of objectives between 9 a.m. and noon. The competition will have male, female, co-ed and family divisions. The entry fee is $50 a person.

“I designed this as the ultimate race I would like to race in,” said staff member Chris McEachron, an avid adventure racer. Each team will get a map and 14 checkpoints to reach and accomplish problem-solving tasks. “We could have 200 teams and none of them could have the same experience.”

For the third year, Life Adventure Center will host what it calls Kentucky’s largest corn maze — 16 miles of paths cut through a six-acre cornfield, where maze designers have used global-positioning satellite technology to create a giant mural visible from the air.

The maze will be open Sept. 14 through Oct. 21. Admission includes hayrides, concerts, a pumpkin patch for little kids, a ropes course and other activities. (More information: Kycornmaze.com)

The center rents its facilities to companies and other groups for retreats, plus conducts activity sessions for school groups, military families and married couples in a series of “Play Date With Your Mate” weekends.

The corn maze and adventure race will help raise money for the center, which benefits from an endowment that covers more than half of programming costs. Other costs are covered by participant fees, grants, rentals and donations.

That allows the organization to offer educational programs to the public at affordable prices, plus provide scholarships for young people who otherwise couldn’t afford these experiences, Marlowe said.

When I visited Life Adventure Center earlier this month, the Carroll County High School girls’ volleyball team was spending an afternoon of team-building on one of the camp’s most popular facilities: a treetop challenge course of cables, a climbing wall and zip lines. Last year, 90 groups with 2,000 people used the challenge course.

Another popular program is equestrian instruction, which includes horseback riding and vaulting for children and adults in indoor and outdoor riding arenas, plus dozens of acres of meadows.

Vaulting — basically gymnastics on horseback — is an old European sport that has gained popularity here since the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, said Kara Musgrave, the equestrian program director.

Other school groups come for environmental education classes, which include wildlife and wildflower areas and a teaching garden.

“Some of the inner-city kids have never been in the woods before,” Marlowe said. “This really captures their imagination.”

There are primitive campsites and cabins, 15 miles of hiking trails, an outdoor picnic pavilion and a new assembly building for year-round indoor activities. The building is one of the first in Woodford County to be designed and built according to high environmentally-friendly LEED standards, Marlowe said.

While the center wants to continue reaching out to all segments of the Central Kentucky community, character-building for children will remain a primary focus.

“A portion of what we do is for the kids who need it and can’t afford it, the at-risk groups,” Marlowe said. “But all kids are at risk for something. All kids have influences that could turn them in a bad direction.”

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Lifelong learning program for seniors now registering for fall classes

August 8, 2012

Many young people can’t wait to get out of school and get on with “real” life. But after several decades of careers and families, many older people can’t wait to get back into the classroom.

That’s because they have discovered that lifelong learning contributes to better mental and physical health and simply makes their lives more interesting.

You will find many of these people at Tates Creek Christian Church on Thursday, signing up for fall courses and activities at the University of Kentucky’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

With 1,300 active participants, the institute is the largest component of the university’s educational-enrichment programs for Kentuckians 50 and older.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of UK Board of Trustees’ 1962 decision to create a Council on Aging to explore then-President Herman Donovan’s interest in serving senior citizens.

Two years later, UK created the most famous piece of that effort: the Donovan Fellowship program, which allows Kentuckians 65 and older to take university classes tuition-free. Time magazine profiled the Donovan Scholars in 1966, calling it the first program of its kind in the nation.

UK’s lifelong learning programs expanded over the years, and they have grown dramatically since 2007. That was when the Bernard Osher Foundation of San Francisco provided UK with significant funding to create the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, one of 117 such programs around the country.

The UK institute’s motto: Where curiosity never retires.

For a $25 annual fee, institute members get admission to seminars, day trips and other activities. They also can enroll in non-credit courses, most of which cost $15 each. The courses meet from six to eight weeks, mostly on weekdays and some Saturdays, at churches and libraries all over Lexington. Some courses also are offered in Morehead and Somerset.

The program is open to people 50 and older, “although we don’t card anybody,” said Susan Bottom, chairwoman of the program’s advisory board.

“I love to learn and I love people who are curious and interested and energetic,” said Bottom, 64, who moved to Lexington to be near her nieces and nephews after a career in military logistics.

“These are the most amazing people,” she said of the institute’s students and instructors. “They’re interested in everything, and they bring their life experiences and knowledge with them. Just to be with them is so much fun.”

People who join the program can attend the Thursday afternoon forum sessions, each with a different speaker. This fall’s speakers will share their expertise on everything from Chinese opera and the cities of Siberia to the role of the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II.

This fall’s 39 course offerings range from computers to culture, plus history, literature, languages, performing and visual arts, and health and wellness. Subjects include digital photography, line dancing, painting, acting, advanced Spanish conversation and much more.

Instructors come from a variety of backgrounds, and their courses reflect their hobbies as well as their current or former vocations. For example, Tom Miller, a retired UK psychology professor, is teaching a class this fall in model railroading.

“We bring expertise but mostly our passion to the classroom, because we’re teaching our peers,” Bottom said. “It’s about staying young, staying connected, staying aware. It’s about the enjoyment of new things and new thoughts. No papers, no tests. Just learning.”

Bottom has taken courses in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights and in Chinese culture, but now she spends most of her time teaching. Her degrees were in journalism and public affairs, but her passion is history.

This fall, Bottom is teaching a history course: Napoleon and Wellington on the Road to Waterloo. Among the students who already have registered for the course is Anne Purple, who has been active in UK senior education programs since she moved to Lexington in 1990. At age 89, Purple has four children, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grand children. But she still makes time to exercise her mind and body.

“If you don’t use it, you lose it,” Purple said. “I remember a history teacher in college say, ‘Don’t ever stop learning!’ There are just too many facets of life to not keep your mind active any way you can.”

If you go

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s fall open house and course registration

When: 1-3:30 p.m., Thursday

Where: Tates Creek Christian Church, 3150 Tates Creek Road

More information: (859) 257-2656 or www.mc.uky.edu/aging/index.html


Here’s my $5 million idea for the mayor; what’s yours?

July 29, 2012

You have until Wednesday to send Mayor Jim Gray your bold idea for improving Lexington.

Gray will choose one idea to submit next month to Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, which will give $5 million to the winning city and four $1 million prizes to runners-up to help turn their ideas into reality.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s foundation wants “a bold idea that can make government work better, solve a serious problem or improve city life.” The idea should be tailored to Lexington, but also be replicable in other cities. It also needs an action plan that can achieve measurable results.

So far, citizens have submitted dozens of ideas through the city’s website, by mail and in “town hall” forums that Gray has conducted via telephone and social media.

So what’s my bold idea for the mayor? Set a goal to make Lexington the nation’s healthiest city through better nutrition and more exercise. The action plan would focus on developing our budding local food economy and making it easier for Lexingtonians to be physically active as part of their daily routines.

This project is perfect for Lexington, because the city has both huge health problems and the basic tools needed to solve them.

Think about it: Long before Men’s Health magazine named Lexington as America’s most sedentary city last year, Kentucky was a national chart-topper for unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, obesity, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, you name it.

On the other hand, Lexington has some of America’s richest soil, and it can grow food as well as horses. There is a lot of farmland, plus other good opportunities for healthy food production, from the indoor aquaponics farm now being built in a former urban bread bakery to suburban backyard gardens.

Lexington already has many smart, creative people working on these issues. They include university researchers, health educators, farmers, food entrepreneurs and non-profit community organizations such as Seedleaf and Food Chain.

As for exercise, Urban County Council members Jay McChord and Doug Martin, architect Van Meter Pettit and many others have become influential promoters of trails, bicycle lanes and better pedestrian infrastructure to make it safer and easier to exercise.

Lexington’s size, educated population, culture, soils, climate and central location make this an ideal place to pioneer new approaches to improving Americans’ health. Think how much progress could be made if a well-publicized city health crusade attracted national attention and other foundation funding?

These are just some of the issues to be explored: How can typical American urban and suburban infrastructure be retrofitted to make it safer for walking and biking? How can locally grown produce and meat be made more affordable? How can local food production be leveraged to create new jobs?

City government’s main role would be to help create infrastructure — everything from bike lanes and pedestrian paths to garden plots on vacant city land and commercial kitchens to help people turn local food into value-added products. With the right infrastructure and support, Lexington’s academics, entrepreneurs, volunteers and non-profit organizations could develop strategies other cities could emulate.

Well, that’s my idea. What’s yours? Send it to the mayor by going to the city’s website (lexingtonky.gov) and filling out an online form. Or mail your idea to: Mayors Challenge, City Hall, 200 E. Main St., Lexington, KY 40507.

Dick Robinson’s Legacy

The last couple of times I saw well-known sports agent Dick Robinson, he was telling me about his dream of extending the popular Legacy Trail from the Kentucky Horse Park to Georgetown. Robinson, 71, was an avid cyclist. He died a year ago Monday as the result of a brain injury suffered in a cycling accident.

Robinson’s widow, Christie, and friends Leslie and Keith Flanders have continued working on the idea, enlisting the support of Scott County property owners and officials.

They have set up an account with the Blue Grass Community Foundation to take donations to fund a feasibility study and are in the process of hiring CDP Engineers of Lexington to conduct it. The six-month study will recommend route options and estimate costs of the three- or four-mile extension so organizers can apply for state, federal and foundation construction grants, Leslie Flanders said.

To raise awareness for the project, there will be a 15-mile ride on the Legacy Trail in Robinson’s memory Monday at 8:30 a.m. at the trailhead on Iron Works Pike across from the horse park campground. Everyone is invited to come out to ride, or just to honor Robinson’s legacy dream.


Former council member’s first backpacking trip was a doozy

July 25, 2012

Three generations of the Stevens family: David, 15, Scott, 55, and David, then 82, at Philmont Scout Ranch last month. They backpacked for 10 days at high altitudes. Photo provided

 

David Stevens had never been backpacking before. But he skis and plays golf, so, he thought, how hard could it be?

Besides, he figured, it would be fun to accompany son Scott, 55, and grandson David, 15, on their 10-day backpacking trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in the mountains of northern New Mexico.

“I thought I was in shape,” said Stevens, 83, a retired physician and a former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council member. “When I got there, I discovered that I wasn’t in as good shape as I thought.

“The uphill climbs were breathtaking, literally,” he said, and the backpack aggravated his sciatica, a nerve condition that can affect the lower back and legs. “It was pretty exhausting, but I made it.”

As of this summer, more than 1 million Boy Scouts and adult leaders have backpacked at Philmont since it opened in 1938. The 137,500-acre ranch has elevations ranging from 6,500 to 12,441 feet, making the air much thinner than in Lexington, at 978 feet above sea level.

Not many three-generation families take Philmont treks, said a ranch spokeswoman, Beverly Ponterio. Stevens wasn’t Philmont’s oldest backpacker, but those older than 75 rarely complete the entire 10-day hike of more than 50 miles, she said.

In a concession to age, Stevens didn’t join the others in hiking to the top of the two tallest peaks: Mount Phillips and the Tooth of Time, a bare rock that is the signature feature on Philmont’s landscape.

Stevens, immediate past president of the Boy Scouts’ 55-county Blue Grass Council, took the trip last month with 40 boys and adult leaders from the region. He was in one of two 10-member crews from Troop 73 at Centenary United Methodist Church. His group was led by Dan Miller, a Lexington lawyer.

Stevens admitted that he should have prepared by doing more than hiking a few miles with a loaded pack at Raven Run Nature Sanctuary and The Arboretum. “It’s not like hiking at The Arboretum,” he said.

Scott Stevens, a radiologist who keeps in shape by cycling, said, “He was fine on the flats and going downhill, but the hills were just all he could do. He had never been backpacking; he didn’t understand how hard it could be, going up those hills at that altitude.”

Scott Stevens hiked with his father while the pace was set by the boys and the fourth adult crew member, pediatric cardiologist Mark Vranickar.

“I was the second-slowest,” group leader Miller said. “I was glad Dr. Stevens was along so I wasn’t the slowest. Not many people his age could have done that trek. It was a challenge for all ages.”

Scott Stevens was impressed when three Scouts offered to carry some of his father’s gear during the toughest climbs. The boys might have hiked a little slower than they would have otherwise, he said, “but they learned something from this; they learned patience.”

After backpacking 4 to 8 miles each morning to the next camp, Scouts were taught new skills by Philmont staffers. They learned to fly fish, throw a tomahawk, shoot a black-powder rifle, climb a pole with boot spars and even milk a goat. They set up and broke camp, cooked all of their meals and cleaned up after themselves.

David Stevens was a Boy Scout while growing up in Louisville in the 1940s; his son was a Scout, too. They are proud of the younger David, a member of the Henry Clay High School golf team who is close to achieving Eagle Scout rank, something they didn’t do.

Stevens said a big reason he went to Philmont was to develop a deeper relationship with his grandson and “see what kind of person he really is.”

“He’s usually pretty quiet when our families get together,” Stevens said. “But he interacted well with his peers, spoke up. I found out that he’s not lazy. He’s good at making up his own mind.”

Stevens’ son and grandson also learned something about him.

“He’s very persistent; he doesn’t give up easily,” his grandson said. “There were times when I thought he wouldn’t make it, but he stuck it out to the very finish, and I thought that was just incredible.”

“I knew he was tough,” Scott Stevens said. “But I didn’t realize how tough he was.”

“I’m glad I went,” David Stevens said. “But I don’t believe I’m going back this year.”

 


Plant to Plate teaches healthy eating habits

May 9, 2012

Students in the Plant to Plate program at the Family Care Center’s alternative high school began this spring by planting vegetables in donated bourbon barrels in the center’s courtyard.  Photo by Ken Gish

 

Sharon Aguilar said her 15-year-old brother likes to eat fast food, but she wants something better for herself and her 1-year-old daughter, Isabel.

So she is learning to buy and cook fresh food. She is even trying to grow lettuce in a little plot outside her family’s apartment, although a rabbit seems to be getting most of it.

Aguilar, 18, read recently that she and her peers might not live as long as their parents because of poor nutrition. “I don’t want that for my daughter,” she said. “Maybe I can make things different for her generation.”

Aguilar’s interest in nutrition was sparked by Plant to Plate, a service project organized by members of this year’s class of Leadership Lexington. The 33-year-old leadership development program, sponsored by Commerce Lexington, helps local professionals become more familiar with different aspects of the community.

“We started out with the idea of trying to do something with gardening, nutrition and students,” said class member Kenneth Gish, an attorney with the firm Stites & Harbison.

In the process of exploring options, the class discovered Lexington’s Family Care Center, which provides education and social services to try to help families become self-sufficient. Its programs include an alternative high school for young mothers and pregnant teens.

Leadership Lexington class members spent the fall and winter organizing Plant to Plate and enlisting the help of people and companies to make it happen. They launched the effort in February with a series of presentations for the girls about nutrition, shopping for food and gardening. They were given by dietician Judy Lawson, Alexa Arnold of the Lexington Farmers Market and organic farmer Sandy Canon.

Several of the school’s two dozen students got to attend the Bluegrass Local Food Summit, organized each March by community garden activist Jim Embry. “He’s my role model now,” Aguilar said.

Leadership Lexington class members helped the girls plant container gardens in the Family Care Center’s courtyard using half bourbon barrels donated by Buffalo Trace Distillery, soil given by Southern States, plants and tools from Fayette Seed, compost from Gunston Farms and garden hoses from Chevy Chase Hardware.

“It has been great to see the willingness of people in the community to get involved in this,” Gish said. “It was a fun process.”

The day I visited, the girls were getting lessons in healthy cooking from Jeremy Ashby, executive chef at Azur restaurant in Beaumont Centre, and Sylvia Lovely, the restaurant’s owner. They do a radio show about food, Sunny Side Up, each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLAP-630 AM.

“One of the things we want to talk about is that local is better,” Ashby said as he told of good sources for locally grown food. He taught the students to properly cut vegetables and prepare a simple but delicious meal of almond-crusted chicken, carrots sautéed with thyme, corn bread, and macaroni and cheese.

Aguilar said she had never been a fan of broccoli, but she still might try the mac-and-cheese recipe at home. Her daughter already likes fresh vegetables better than she does, she admitted.

“It’s not as hard as I thought it was to eat healthy,” she said when asked what she has learned. “And it tastes better. I don’t like canned spinach, but I like fresh spinach.”

Plant to Plate has made a difference, said Joanna Rodes, director of the Family Care Center, which is run by the city’s Division of Family Services.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at how much they have enjoyed it,” she said of the students. “I hear them talking more about cooking at home and making healthy choices for their children.”

Rodes hopes to build on many aspects of the Plant to Plate experience, from cooking classes to growing vegetables. But it will take more volunteer efforts from individuals, companies or groups like Leadership Lexington.

“We’ve lost a lot of resources,” she said. “So we just can’t do it without people who want to do good things.”

For one thing, Rodes said, the students’ excitement about container gardening makes her think a much larger garden on the center’s grounds could be successful — if volunteers were willing to help.

“I feel that we could take any of these avenues and go 100 miles,” she said.

Jeremy Ashby, executive chef at Azur restaurant, shows Sharon Agular how to use a chef’s knife to julienne carrots. Photo by Tom Eblen

Jovanna Martinez, left, and Sharon Agular learn to cook almond-crusted chicken during a cooking class led by Jeremy Ashby, executive chef at Azur restaurant. Photo by Tom Eblen


Bike month brings lots of two-wheel news, events

May 2, 2012

May is National Bike Month, a good time to briefly note upcoming events and review recent progress toward making Central Kentucky a better place to ride bicycles for fun and transportation.

■ Bike Lexington, the city’s monthlong celebration, is sponsoring commuter classes and a commuter challenge. The family fun ride through town, which always attracts a couple thousand riders, is June 2. More information: BikeLexington.com.

■ Second Sunday’s third annual Blue Grass Airport event is June 10. Several thousand people always come out for a chance to ride, skate and walk on the auxiliary runway while it is closed to aircraft. More information: 2ndSundayKy.com.

■ The Bluegrass Cycling Club’s 35th annual Horsey Hundred tour is May 26 and 27. Saturday ride options include routes of 26, 35, 53, 75 and 100 miles. Sunday options are 35, 50 and 75 miles. All rides begin at Georgetown College.

The rides are supported with rest stops and “sag wagons” to pick up riders who need help. About 2,000 cyclists will come from across the nation to ride through our beautiful countryside. For more information, go to BGcycling.org.

■ Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop reopened Friday in a much larger space at the new Bread Box development at West Sixth and Jefferson streets. The shop started in late 2010 behind Al’s Bar on North Limestone and Sixth Street.

The non-profit shop “recycles” donated bikes for sale to low-income people. “Our goal is to provide reliable basic transportation at a price anyone can afford,” said Shane Tedder, one of the shop’s volunteer organizers.

Broke Spoke also provides a place where anyone may borrow tools to work on a bicycle in return for an hourly fee or shop membership.

The shop now has a 2,500-square-foot space, thanks to the Bread Box’s developers and an $11,000 grant from the Paula Nye Memorial Foundation, which the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission administers from the fee that motorists pay for “Share the Road” license plates. Other financial backers included the Bluegrass Cycling Club and Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt.

Broke Spoke is open 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday and 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. The Bread Box, a former commercial bakery, also is home to West Sixth Brewing and several artist studios.

Broke Spoke’s new space opens onto the proposed extension of the Legacy Trail, from the Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue to East Third Street and Midland Avenue. For more information, go to Thebrokespoke.org.

The Bread Box is next to Coolavin Park, whose former tennis courts have become the site of Lexington’s burgeoning bike polo leagues. Last weekend, the park hosted Ladies Army IV, an all-female bike polo tournament that attracted 40 teams with more than 200 athletes from the United States and from five European and Asian countries. Who knew?

■ An important piece of bicycle infrastructure just opened with little fanfare at the double-diamond interchange at Harrodsburg and New Circle roads.

The original design called for a sidewalk. But Urban County Councilman Doug Martin said he was able to work with Bob Nunley and others at District 7 of the state Transportation Cabinet to put a paved bike path on both sides.

That short path might not seem like much to motorists, but it solves a huge problem for cyclists. Crossing New Circle Road can be a major problem on a bicycle, and more solutions like this are needed.

Martin hopes this connection and others along the Harrodsburg Road corridor will allow the Legacy Trail to connect eventually with the new bike path along U.S. 68, providing a safe way to ride all the way from the Kentucky Horse Park to Wilmore, he said.

Meanwhile, Lexington recently installed bicycle detection devices at several intersections where lights often wouldn’t change without a car present. Also, an updated bike-route map of the city will be published in May.

■ Bluegrass Bike Partners is a new regional effort started in Midway to identify and market businesses and organizations that welcome cyclists. More information: Midwayrenaissance.org.

■ Pedal the Planet Bike Shop has become the state’s second organization, after the University of Kentucky, to be certified as a “silver” bike-friendly business by the League of American Bicyclists. The designation recognizes companies and institutions that provide certain ways and incentives for employees to bike to work.