Before vacation season ends, experience wonders close to home

August 12, 2014

140731Maker'sMark0168This art glass installation in the ceiling of a barrel warehouse is the newest visitor attraction at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Marion County. Below, Ward Hall in Georgetown is a Greek Revival masterpiece. Photos by Tom Eblen 

 

There’s a chill in the air this week. Schools are back in session. Fall is beginning to arrive.

But if you want to stretch vacation season a little longer, here’s an idea: Find time to visit some Central Kentucky wonders. You know, the places tourists come from around the world to see but locals often forget about.

Here are a few suggestions. For more details on many of them, go to Visitlex.com, the Lexington Convention and Visitors Bureau’s website.

Horses. This may be the horse capital of the world, but when did you last see one? Spend a day at the Kentucky Horse Park (Kyhorsepark.com) or visit a Thoroughbred farm. Several farms welcome visitors who schedule in advance. Or you can do like out-of-towners do and book a horse farm bus tour.

Keeneland Race Course is the best place to see Thoroughbreds in action. The park-like grounds are open year-around. The yearling sales are Sept. 8-21. The fall racing meet is Oct. 3-25. More information: Keeneland.com.

Bourbon. More than 90 percent of this globally popular whiskey is made within a short drive of Lexington. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is becoming a major tourist draw. My favorite distilleries to visit include Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, Wild Turkey and Four Roses near Lawrenceburg, Maker’s Mark near Lebanon and Woodford Reserve near Versailles. More information: Kybourbontrail.com.

Country roads. Some of my favorite places to enjoy Central Kentucky’s beauty are the country roads that connect the region like a vast spider’s web. These are perfect for scenic drives. I like to go by bicycle, but it takes experience to know which roads are safe and comfortable for cycling. The Bluegrass Cycling Club has well-managed group rides each week. Check the calendar: Bgcycling.net.

Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.comArchitecture and history. This was a rich agricultural region before the Civil War, and remnants of that era can be seen in Central Kentucky’s grand mansions. Architectural styles include Federal, Greek Revival, Italianate and Gothic Revival.

Many historic homes are still private residences, but some of the best are open for tours. Among them: Ward Hall in Georgetown, White Hall in Madison County and these in Lexington: Waveland, the Hunt-Morgan House, the Mary Todd Lincoln House and Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate. Other must-sees: Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill in Mercer County and the Old Capitol in Frankfort.

Nature. Perhaps the least-known attractions in Central Kentucky are natural areas, but they can be spectacularly beautiful. I especially love the Palisades region of the Kentucky River, which stretches from Boonesboro to Frankfort.

Lexington’s Raven Run park is the most-visited natural area in the Palisades region. Others include Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve (lowerhowardscreek.org), Floracliff Nature Sanctuary (Floracliff.org) and Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary, all of which have more-limited public access.

Julian Campbell, a botanist and authority on native Kentucky plants, has begun leading monthly hikes to promote awareness and conservation of natural areas. More information: Bluegrasswoodland.com or email campmeet@gmail.com.

But you don’t have to go hiking in the woods to see Central Kentucky’s oldest and most magnificent natural specimens.

A unique feature of the Bluegrass landscape is huge burr and chinkapin oak, blue ash and kingnut hickory trees, some of which are thought to be 300-500 years old. Tom Kimmerer, a forest scientist, has launched a non-profit organization to study how to better care for these “venerable” trees, as he calls them. More information: Venerabletrees.org.

Because Lexington has literally grown up around these old trees, they can be found in some strange places.

Recent brush-trimming has highlighted a magnificent burr oak that Kimmerer is conserving for Ball Homes beside a new subdivision at Harrodsburg Road and Military Pike. In the 1990s, a parking structure for medical offices was built around another huge oak tree, near the corner of Harrodsburg and Mason Headley roads.

Other notable examples can be found in front of an Avis car rental office on South Broadway; on the lawns of Sullivan University and the mansion at Griffin Gate; and scattered among new buildings along Sir Barton Way in Hamburg.

Here’s an idea: as you drive around on your weekly errands, start an ancient tree scavenger hunt! Anything to make the lazy days of summer last a little longer.

140807Gainesway0018This burr oak tree on Gainesway Farm is likely several hundred years old. 


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.”


Winter’s last gasp reinforces the joy of springtime in Kentucky

April 15, 2014

Mahan-KeenelandA horse is exercised at Keeneland after Tuesday’s snow. Photo by Mark Mahan. Below, snow melts off a tulip at Mathews Garden at the University of Kentucky. Photo by Pablo Alcala.

 

We should have known this winter would not give up easily. But I just smiled when I woke up Tuesday to that little last gasp of a snow storm.

I smiled because I had already seen, felt and smelled the warm promise of spring. I had a sunburn from the weekend. And I knew that there is no better place to enjoy springtime than in Kentucky.

Two Saturdays ago, I saw the new season arrive on the tiny blooms of Dutchman’s breeches, bloodroot and rare snow trillium. The rugged creeks that feed into the Kentucky River Palisades harbor a unique array of spring wildflowers, both common and endangered.

Wildflower hikes are offered by such places as the Floracliff Nature Sanctuary, the Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve and the Salato Wildlife Education Center. But opportunities are limited, and the flowers are fleeting.

More common wildflowers can be enjoyed on lawns whose owners eschew toxic chemicals. My yard is awash in purple violets. The grassy median that divides my street has patches of white spring beauties. The grounds at Ashland, the Henry Clay Estate, have been so covered with spring beauties that it looked as if the snow had arrived there early.

TulipThe lilac bushes beside my front porch have made it a fragrant place to relax on warm evenings and watch my neighbors dust off their bicycles and take a spin.

Last weekend was a perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with some of my cycling friends. Sunshine and perfect temperatures made it feel like late May, although our out-of-shape bodies kept reminding us that it was only early April.

We rode a 35-mile loop Saturday past manicured horse farms in Fayette, Scott and Bourbon counties, then enjoyed a late lunch at Windy Corner Market, where a steady line of customers stretched out the door for hours.

Sunday’s ride was more ambitious: 50-something hilly miles from our Lexington homes to Berea. A few steep climbs and a constant headwind showed who had and who had not kept in shape over the winter. I had not. As we crossed the Kentucky River on the Valley View Ferry, a crew member serenaded us with his guitar. Birds took over the musical duties as we pedaled along Tate’s Creek on the other side, admiring redbud trees in full bloom.

We stopped for lunch at Acres of Land winery, the road up to which required climbing acres of steep asphalt. We needed the rest before continuing on to Boone Tavern for a round of iced tea on the veranda.

Madison County showed a visiting friend from Atlanta a more rugged view of Bluegrass beauty than he had seen the day before. Sadly, though, many back roads were littered with plastic bottles and fast-food cups tossed from passing vehicles. As Forrest Gump would say, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

While we were biking, many others were enjoying one of my favorite spring venues, Keeneland Race Course. Saturday’s weather made it no surprise that nearly 40,000 people attended the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, the second-largest crowd in history.

I haven’t been to the races yet this season, but I have been to Keeneland. When I can manage to pull myself out of bed an hour before daylight, I like to go out there, walk around the backside and watch exercise riders warm up that day’s competitors on the track. It is one of the best free shows in Lexington.

As the rising sun fully illuminates forsythia and dogwood, and as Keeneland’s equine athletes are being cooled off and groomed, I walk to the Track Kitchen for the sort of delicious breakfast cardiologists disapprove of.

As I finish writing this, the last remnants of the snow have melted off my front yard. The budding leaves on my tulip poplar and the giant sycamore across the street look twice as big as they were yesterday. It will be at least six months before they turn color and fall, big as dinner plates.

So long, winter. Don’t be in any hurry to come back.

 


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.


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.


Get ready for Bike Lexington on Saturday

May 29, 2012

The long Memorial Day weekend is over and you’re back at work today — thinking about what to do next weekend.

Well, get your bicycle out of the garage Saturday morning and head downtown for the annual Bike Lexington Family Fun Ride, a roll around the city without having to worry about cars getting in your way.

Registration begins at 8 a.m. at Courthouse Plaza, and the ride begins promptly at 10 a.m. There will be a Kids’ Bike Safety Rodeo and children’s bike race from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. There also will be food vendors and a raffle for a free bike from Bike Lexington’s main sponsor, Pedal Power Bike Shop.

The Family Fun Ride route map is below. For more information, go to BikeLexington.com.


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.


1 year, 416 miles of Lexington streets, many lessons

August 2, 2011

On a rare warm day in February 2010, Steve Austin began a bicycle ride from his home in Ashland Park. He is almost finished with it.

Austin didn’t set out intending to ride all 416 miles of Lexington streets inside New Circle Road. But the more he rode that afternoon, the more he thought it wouldn’t be that hard.

“Finding the time and the right weather was my biggest challenge,” said Austin, a vice president at Blue Grass Community Foundation.

Austin rode mostly on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but occasionally during heavy weekday traffic, always starting from his home. With a yellow highlighter, he marked off each street on a well-folded city map, but he didn’t keep track of his total miles ridden. He has only a few streets left to go.

“I was really doing an experiment to see if Lexington is a bikeable city,” he said. “The answer is yes. We tell ourselves it’s not because of traffic, but inside New Circle Road is really compact, although it’s more hilly than it looks from a car.”

Austin, who was trained as a landscape architect and land-use lawyer and has spent much of his career as a city planner, said that viewing Lexington from the seat of a bicycle has given him a new perspective.

For one thing, he was impressed by how courteous drivers were to him. And he was struck by how nice Lexington’s older suburban neighborhoods are — even the less-affluent ones. “But we missed a lot of opportunities as we grew from the core by not building greenways along the creeks to connect them,” he said.

“You can live in a great suburb and still have to drive to everything,” he said. “Retro-fitting the urban fabric to make it more pedestrian- and bike-friendly is going to be one of our challenges over the next few decades” as gasoline prices rise and the population ages.

But that won’t be as difficult, or expensive, as it might sound. Austin discovered that New Circle Road is no more than a 30-minute bike ride from anywhere inside it, and the city is filled with lots of streets going the same direction.

“You can ride almost anywhere without getting on a busy road — a Nicholasville Road, a Richmond Road,” he said, adding that Liberty, Mason Headley and Parkers Mill roads can be just as treacherous.

Austin said small things could make a big difference, such as signs marking good bike routes and cut-throughs at key points — a bridge over the creek behind Lafayette High School, for example, or a pathway behind Picadome Golf Course — that would allow cyclists to avoid busy roads.

“Those are incremental costs compared to the benefits we would get for the city,” he said.

Such small improvements could encourage more bicycle commuters. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey found that only about 1 percent of Lexington’s 143,000 commuters bike to work. “What would it take to get to 10 percent?” Austin wondered.

Austin now bikes to his downtown office several days a week, and he rides around his neighborhood some evenings with his son, who recently got a bicycle for his 9th birthday. Austin, who also has taken up jogging, said he has lost more than 20 pounds and is trying for more.

Austin said his journey also helped him notice things about Lexington that have nothing to do with biking — for example, how some of Lexington’s nicest neighborhoods are only a stone’s throw from some of its most dilapidated. “Yet we’ve kind of compart mentalized things,” he said. “We have mental blinders.”

Austin also noticed University of Kentucky flags on homes in almost every neighborhood. “It sounds kind of cliché, but UK athletics is the unifier, the common reference,” he said. It made him wonder: How powerful would it be if every Lexington child could attend a basketball game in Rupp Arena, if only once?

“I think it’s important for us to get to know our city better,” he said. “And you just don’t get it from the windshield of a car.”


The secret to exercise is finding something you enjoy

July 20, 2011

I have a framed photograph of my 35-year-old self covering the 1994 Winter Olympics. I am wearing a colorful Norwegian sweater. But what I always notice first is my chubby face. For the first time in my life, I was getting fat.

My doctor called me on it a few months later. “You need more exercise,” he said bluntly. “Ride a bike. That’s what I do.”

I was never much of an athlete. I hiked as a Boy Scout. I marched with the Lafayette High School band. But after college and marriage, about the only exercise I got was chasing after my two young daughters.

So I bought a road bike, helmet and padded shorts, and started riding around my Atlanta neighborhood. The more I rode, the better I liked it.

I began riding on weekends with the father of one of my daughter’s friends. Soon, I had the stamina and courage to accompany him on long rides. I was comforted that he was an emergency room doctor.

Within a year, I had ridden 2,000 miles. I was 35 pounds lighter, I felt great and friends kept telling me how much healthier I looked. Most of all, I was constantly looking forward to my next ride.

Since moving home to Lexington in 1998, I have continued to ride at least 2,000 miles a year. Now almost 53, I have yet to weigh as much as I did at 35, despite my love for barbecue and bourbon balls.

Men’s Health magazine recently ranked Lexington as the nation’s most sedentary city. That might or might not be true, but studies have shown that most Kentuckians don’t get enough exercise. Doubt the studies? Look around you. Or look in the mirror.

Here is what I have learned from my fitness adventure: Exercise works only if you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t keep doing it. So find an activity you enjoy.

There is something magical for me about the biomechanical harmony of riding a bicycle. I love going places under my own power. It is a lot like hiking, except the scenery changes faster.

Climbing a big hill on a bicycle is challenging. The reward is the rush you get from flying down the other side. All you hear is wind and the whir of your back wheel’s sprocket; it sounds like a fly reel when a big trout is pulling out the line.

Cycling is best when you ride with other people. You can have some wonderful conversations while pedaling along at 15 or 20 mph, once you learn to pause and resume talking with the noise of wind and traffic.

Several people I ride with in rural Central Kentucky have become close friends. We have shared a lot with one another. It only makes sense; we have had so many miles to talk.

But this might be what I like best about cycling: Each ride is like a mini-vacation in one of the world’s most beautiful places.

I see nuances in the rural Bluegrass landscape on a bicycle that I never notice from a car. Were I not cycling, I would have had no reason to discover  the dozens of lightly traveled country lanes I now know so well. I often ride past beautiful antebellum homes, abandoned distilleries, caves, creeks and waterfalls that most people around here don’t even know exist.

Tuesday morning’s ride was typical. A friend and I met soon after dawn on the edge of Lexington. The sun shone through plank fences, creating beautiful shadow patterns on the road. We sped by horses grazing in fields and saw a young colt being taken for a walk. Birds danced across meadows filled with wildflowers. Squirrels gathered walnuts around stone fences.

We stopped at Windy Corner Market for coffee and a country ham biscuit. I enjoyed those Kentucky Proud calories all the more because I knew they would be long gone by the time we finished our fast, 28-mile ride and parted for our weekday routines.

Cycling has made me healthier and happier. It isn’t just exercise. It’s fun.


This is the weekend to get out your bicycle

May 26, 2011

Keep your fingers crossed, but it looks as if the weather will cooperate for Central Kentucky’s big bicycle weekend. Events are planned for cyclists of every kind, from kids and newbies to spandex-clad regulars:

Friday-Sunday: The Bluegrass Cycling Club hosts its 33rd annual Horsey Hundred tour of rural Central Kentucky. The event begins Friday afternoon with registration at Georgetown College and a pre-ride party at Royal Springs Park in Georgetown. On Saturday, there will be rides of 26, 36, 50, 76 and 102 miles to choose from. On Sunday, the rides are 34, 50 or 70 miles. There will be lunch and plenty of rest stops both days, plus a party in Midway on Saturday evening. For more information and registration, go to www.bgcycling.org.

Saturday: The Bike Bash takes place at Cheapside Park in downtown Lexington from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. There will be music by the Matt Duncan Band, “slow” bike races and a stunt show by professional mountain bike rider Mike Steidley.

Monday: Several thousand cyclists will converge on Courthouse Plaza in downtown Lexington for the annual Bike Lexington events. This free day of fun, sponsored by Pedal Power Bike Shop, includes a car-free, 10-mile family fun ride through Lexington that starts at noon. Other activities include a bike safety rodeo for kids at 10 a.m., bike races all afternoon, vendors and more. For more information: www.bikelexington.com.


More reasons to ride bikes when weather breaks

February 9, 2011

It is Monday afternoon as I write this, and outside my office window, Lexington looks like a giant snow globe. Fat flakes are pounding the icy pavement, and all I can think about is how much I want it to warm up so I can ride my bike again.

Spring will come eventually. When it does, Lexington will be an even better place for bicycling, thanks to many people’s hard work.

The Fayette County Public Schools was awarded a $20,775 grant last month from the Kentucky Bicycle and Bikeway Commission to expand its bike-safety program. The money came from voluntary fees paid by people buying “Share the Road” license plates.

Last year, many of the school system’s physical education teachers were trained by certified instructors from the League of American Bicyclists. The next phase of the program includes purchasing 70 more bikes and helmets to teach all third-, fourth- and fifth-graders how to safely ride a bike.

City officials recently finished “complete streets” guidelines for adding bike lanes, whenever possible, to new and renovated streets and roads, said Kenzie Gleason, Lexington’s bike/pedestrian coordinator.

Lexington has 25 miles of bike lanes, including recent additions to South Limestone, Vine Street, Polo Club Boulevard, Todds Road and the Newtown Pike extension. An additional 15 miles have been funded. Those bike lanes will be added as part of improvements to Maxwell Street and Clays Mill Road this year, and to Southland Drive next year.

Lexington also now has 22 miles of bike/walking trails, including the new Legacy Trail. Six more miles of trails have been funded and are in development. Twenty more miles are being studied or designed but are not funded.

The Legacy Trail’s initial eight-mile section, from the YMCA on Loudon Avenue to the Kentucky Horse Park, has been popular since it opened in September. When it has been too icy or snowy for bikes, friends tell me they have seen people cross-country skiing there.

An extension of the trail from the YMCA to the proposed Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue has been delayed until completion of an archaeological survey. Organizers always knew the great 19th-century African-American jockey’s home was near the garden; now they think he might have lived on that very spot.

Two couples from Scott County — Dick and Christie Robinson and Keith and Leslie Flanders — are soliciting support to extend the Legacy Trail from the Horse Park to the Cincinnati Bengals’ training center in Georgetown. The distance is less than most people might think: about three miles. But it would make this the Bluegrass’s first multicounty trail.

Bluegrass Tomorrow also is pushing the idea of a regional trail system. Chairman Blaine Early said the non-profit “smart growth” group hopes to facilitate plans among its 18 counties to build new trails and connect with those that exist elsewhere, including Lexington and Versailles.

Meanwhile, The Fayette Alliance has asked Vice Mayor Linda Gorton to appoint a Bike Trails Task Force to bring stakeholders together to figure out how to design and finance recreational trails throughout Fayette County.

An extensive trail system could be “an extraordinary economic development, quality-of-life, tourism and transportation tool for our city and state,” said Knox van Nagell, director of the land-use advocacy group.

“I’m super-excited about this,” said Gorton, who expects to appoint the task force by the end of February.

But one thing Lexington won’t see soon is another public bike-sharing program downtown. Last year, the city received a $175,000 federal grant that officials hoped to use for an automatic kiosk system to replace the Yellow Bike program that was launched in 2008 but was abandoned last year.

“The more we learned about bike-sharing systems, it was obvious that that amount of money was not going to cover the equipment and ongoing operations,” Gleason said. More study is needed to develop a plan to make such a program pay for itself after creation.

Instead, Gleason said, the grant will be used to install sensors to detect cyclists and trigger traffic signals at key intersections around town. That would be helpful because most current sensors were designed for big motor vehicles and don’t notice a bicycle. Cyclists gripe about that almost as much as they do about snow and ice.


Food for thought in a bike shop window

January 25, 2011

Pedal Power Bike Shop, Lexington. Photo by Tom Eblen


Broke Spoke hopes to put old bikes to new use

November 10, 2010

Shane Tedder, left to right, Brad Flowers and Tim Buckingham are among those starting the Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop. Photo by Tom Eblen

Lexington has four good bicycle shops. They have expert mechanics and sell a wide selection of new bikes, specialty clothing and accessories.

The Broke Spoke Community Bicycle Shop won’t be much like them.

That is because the volunteers starting Broke Spoke hope to focus on a different slice of Lexington’s growing cycling community: “The people often referred to as ‘invisible cyclists,’” said Brad Flowers, one of the organizers.

Many of these cyclists are not like those of us who ride for fun and fitness. We can afford to buy what we want — or drive a car when it serves our transportation needs better than a bicycle.

Broke Spoke’s primary mission will be to get used bicycles — like the ones gathering dust in your garage — into the hands of poor people, kids and others who could use them for basic transportation, exercise and fun.

Used bikes and parts will be sold at low cost, or in return for work at the shop, which is in a room behind Al’s Sidecar at East Sixth Street and North Limestone.

The shop opens this weekend to begin taking donations of used bicycles and spare parts. Musicians Ben Sollee, who often tours by bicycle, and Justin Lewis will perform a benefit concert at 8 p.m. Saturday next door at Al’s Bar to raise cash to help cover the shop’s startup costs.

Broke Spoke’s opening also coincides with the Midwest Open Bike Polo Tournament, which will bring 48 teams from across the region to Coolavin Park. That confluence of events says a lot about how Broke Spoke came about — and what organizers hope it will become. It is neither a business nor a charity, but a place for community engagement around bicycles.

Broke Spoke will make tools and space available at nominal cost for people who want to work on their own bikes. A network of amateur mechanics will provide instruction. The shop hopes to become a hub for people interested in local cycling advocacy. And it will provide consignment space for those who make bicycle-related crafts.

“We want this to be a social space,” organizer Shane Tedder said. “A place where all of the great things about cycling would be celebrated.”

Many bigger cities have community bicycle shops. The idea for this one began five years ago, when Tedder started the Wildcat Wheels loaner bike program at the University of Kentucky.

“We were doing a lot of the wrenching out of my living room, and it developed a community bike shop feel,” he said. “We thought (a shop) would be a good idea, but we didn’t have the time or money.”

After several false starts, things started coming together a few months ago. Les Miller, an owner of Al’s Bar and Al’s Sidecar, and Stella’s restaurant on Jefferson Street, offered to make the Sidecar’s back room available under flexible rent terms. He also offered Al’s Bar for monthly benefit events.

Nick Such, a young technology entrepreneur, donated money he made from selling “I Bike KY” T-shirts to help buy shop tools. The Bluegrass Cycling Club, which uses profits from its annual Horsey Hundred tour for bicycle-related causes, also is providing support.

Organizers hope that Broke Spoke eventually will be self-sustaining, with regular hours beyond the initial 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays.

“We know that there’s a strong market for used bikes that is competitive with the cheap bikes sold at big-box stores but not the new, good bikes sold at the bike shops,” Tedder said.

Lexington’s bicycle shops have always been community-minded. One example is the Shifting Gears program at Pedal Power Bike Shop, which Flowers started when he worked there. It takes donated bikes, repairs them and gives them to legal immigrants resettled by Kentucky Refugee Ministries.

“The last thing we want to do is be competition for local bike shops,” organizer Tim Buckingham said. In fact, Broke Spoke hopes to boost the shops’ sales through sales of new parts and stronger community interest in cycling.

“The degree this will be successful,” Flowers said, “will be the degree to which we can make it really fun, useful and inclusive.”


Miss airport Second Sunday? Watch the video

July 26, 2010

Several thousand people came out June 13 for the Second Sunday event at Blue Grass Airport. The almost-finished new runway was opened to bikers, rollerbladers, skateboarders and walkers. It was a great community event to encourage people to get outside and exercise

In case you missed it, organizers commissioned the video below. For more information about other Second Sunday events, go to the website.


Second Sunday draws big crowd, despite heat

June 13, 2010

What’s a little heat and humidity when you have a chance to play on an airport runway?  That’s what more than 2,500 people seemed to think this afternoon when they came out to Second Sunday to bike, skate, walk and run down Blue Grass Airport’s nearly finished 4,000-foot runway.

Some, like me, rode out from home on their bikes. Most drove out, filling the main 1,200-spot parking lot. Others were sent to an overflow lot and were shuttled in on LexTran buses. There was plenty of water to drink and several interesting old planes from the Aviation Museum of Kentucky and airport emergency vehicles to see. Plus, you could watch planes take off and land on the airport’s main runway nearby.

(LexTran boss Rocky Burke was there on his bike. I also saw Urban County Councilman Jay McChord, one of the organizers of Second Sunday, and Council at-Large candidate Steve Kay.  Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President David Adkisson was there on a bike with his three grandchildren, one of whom he was pulling in a little trailer.)

It was a great family outing, and a fun way to get some exercise. That’s the whole point of Second Sunday.

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:


Cyclists of all ages take to streets for Bike Lexington

May 31, 2010

More than 2,500 people filled Courthouse Plaza downtown Monday for Bike Lexington, the culmination of a month of bicycle-related events and activities.  Bike Lexington included a 10-mile family fun ride, races, trick riding demonstrations, vendors and bike raffles by prime sponsor Pedal Power Bike Shop.

At Bike Lexington, officials announced the results of the Commuter Bike Challenge, a competition in which employees at local companies and organizations logged commuting miles to and from work. Nearly 500 rider participants logged a total of about 12,000 miles. The employers with the most miles included Bullhorn marketing, Awesome Inc., the University of Kentucky Libraries and UK Chemistry Department.

On Saturday and Sunday, nearly 2,000 cyclists from around the country were in the area to participate in the Bluegrass Cycling Club’s 33rd annual Horse Hundred ride through Scott, Fayette, Bourbon and Woodford Counties. That event was based at Georgetown College and included rides each day of between 26 and 102 miles.

Click on each thumbnail to see entire photo:


Taking a bicycle ride (almost) across Kentucky

October 14, 2009

Our plan was to ride Kentucky from top to bottom, but Mother Nature had other plans.

Storms on Friday forced organizers of the Governor’s Autumn Bicycle Ride Across Kentucky to cancel the first day’s journey — 60 miles from the Ohio River at Carrollton to Frankfort.

A few brave souls did it anyway. “We came to ride, so we rode,” said John O’Cull, a Vanceburg dentist. He and three buddies arrived in Frankfort soaking wet.

The other 65 of us started Saturday morning from the Grand Theatre in downtown Frankfort. The annual ride began in 2004 to raise money for the Grand’s restoration. This year, it became part of Gov. Steve Beshear’s “adventure tourism” initiative.

We spent Saturday night at a church camp near Campbellsville, where a truck had ferried our luggage. We left from there Sunday morning and finished the ride by dipping our wheels in Dale Hollow Lake on the Tennessee line.

Saturday’s ride was 90 miles or so; Sunday’s was 70 or so. I say “or so” because some of us missed a couple of the orange Gs that had been spray-painted on the road to mark turns, so we unintentionally enjoyed a few extra miles of Kentucky scenery.

We avoided big highways whenever possible. Many roads we traveled barely rated mention on a map.

The rain stopped early Saturday, but most of the weekend was cloudy, cold and breezy.

I never know how to dress when biking this time of year. I was burning up in a light fleece jacket as we climbed a big hill Sunday on Little Cake Road in Adair County, but I felt good a couple of miles later as we passed Bearwallow Cemetery. Then I was cold as we flew down a hill on Bull Run Lane.

Only two hills got me off my bike: One was Saturday, too soon after a delicious lunch of fried chicken, corn and apples that I wanted to keep. The other was a steep, milelong climb Sunday. I made it three-fourths of the way up, but I had to stop long enough to get my heart out of my throat so I could resume pedaling.

I enjoy the camaraderie of riding with old friends and making new ones. I also like the challenge of going from place to place under my own power. Bicycle touring is like hiking, only the scenery changes faster. By the end of a long ride, my legs are burning and my butt is getting numb, but I feel as if I’ve accomplished something.

Kentucky always seems more beautiful when viewed from a bicycle. There’s nothing between you and the passing landscape. The only noise is your own heavy breathing as you go uphill and the smooth spin of your freewheel as you go down.

After Sunday brunch at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, we saw a chapel designed by architect E. Fay Jones, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s a piece of world-class modern architecture that you don’t expect to find in small-town Kentucky.

Most of the ride’s sights were more subtle, and 15 miles an hour was slow enough to study them.

Tire swings hung from front-yard trees, and wood stoves were getting back to work. There was a hint of smoke in the air, and long stacks of split logs waiting to be devoured.

Golden tobacco hung from barn rafters. Amish buggies sat parked in sheds. Pumpkins were arranged in yards, and Halloween ghosts made of white trash bags dangled from trees and porches.

Morning mist blanketed still-green pastures and fading fields of cornstalks. Red sumac and yellow walnut trees stood waiting for the rest of the forest to catch up.

Old farmers and children called out and waved. Dairy cows stood and stared. Dogs watched, too, or gave chase, depending on their age, temperament and how many cyclists they had already gone after.

Riding back roads makes you realize how much of this state is made up of small farms, modest rural homes and crossroads communities barely big enough to support a store or church.

As you roll quietly from one little town to the next, there’s so much to see. Then your burning legs remind you that there’s a hill coming up and, beyond it, another colorful piece in the patchwork that is Kentucky.


Second Sunday to become monthly event

October 7, 2009

At least 104 of Kentucky’s 120 counties will close a major street for several hours Sunday afternoon and invite people to come out and exercise: run, bike, walk, jog, skate — whatever they like.

In Lexington, Main and Short streets between Rose Street/Elm Tree Lane and Broadway will be closed from about 2 to 7 p.m.

More than 75 local organizations have activities planned around Second Sunday in Lexington — everything from dance classes to bike polo demonstrations. Plus, Biggest Loser TV show finalist Mark Kruger will speak about how he lost 129 pounds by exercising more and eating less.

For details, go to the city’s Web site, www.lexingtonky.gov and click on the Second Sunday icon. For statewide information, go to www.2ndsundayky.com.

It will be a big afternoon. But what happens after that?

In Lexington, a smaller version of Second Sunday will become a monthly event.

Beginning Nov. 8, organizers plan to sponsor a police-escorted bicycle ride on the second Sunday of each month, said Urban County Councilman Jay McChord.

“For a year we’ve been talking about how to make Second Sunday a once-a-month thing, and eventually a once-a-week thing,” McChord said. “This is a start.”

McChord has been one of Second Sunday’s biggest boosters, seeing it as a way to curb Kentucky’s horrible health statistics, which include being a national leader in heart disease, diabetes and obesity. The hope is that these events will inspire people to exercise regularly and adopt healthful lifestyles.

The new monthly 10- to 12-mile bike rides for cyclists of all abilities who are at least age 12 will begin at Cheapside. Each month, the ride will go to a different Lexington park or neighborhood.

The November ride will begin at 2 p.m. and go out Harrodsburg Road to the Beaumont neighborhood, where old farm roads have become trails. Details of each monthly ride will be posted on the city’s Web site, including cancelation information if the weather turns nasty.

Each event will cost organizers about $750 for a police escort, money that will be covered by sponsors. November’s ride is being sponsored by downtown developer Phil Holoubek and his wife, Marnie. Future sponsors include the Legacy Center and Pedal the Planet bike shop.

“The idea is to showcase the bike lanes and trails we already have and the ones we are building,” said Wendy Trimble, co-owner of Pedal the Planet. “We want to get people out more often and maybe give them the confidence in a group setting to get out later on their own. We also hope it will make people realize that 10 miles on a bike isn’t really that far.”

Holoubek said Mayor Jim Newberry and Lexington police officials have been very supportive of the effort. Eventually, the monthly escorted rides could lead to other activities that will get people outside and exercising all year around.

“We can really change the health culture of Kentucky,” McChord said.


Second Sunday event grows to 100 counties

September 3, 2009

With Second Sunday a little more than a month away, 100 of Kentucky’s 120 counties have plans to participate.

Each county plans to close a street or highway for a few hours Sunday afternoon, Oct. 11, and invite residents to come out to walk, bike, run or jog — and to think about how regular exercise could make them healthier and happier.

That was the basic idea used to launch Second Sunday last year, when 70 counties were involved. This year, though, many communities have more ambitious plans.

“It’s becoming a platform for all kinds of health-related events,” said Diana Doggett, a county extension agent in Lexington who is coordinating the statewide effort.

Dogget said many counties are planning health fairs, “fastest kid in town” races and even arts events.

Lexington will close a mile-long loop downtown — Main to Mill to Short to Deweese streets — from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Related events include bike polo demonstrations, health screenings and martial arts and yoga classes. A bike valet service will be available for cyclists to check their bikes while participating in other activities.

Jessamine County plans similar events downtown, plus a 6k run between West Jessamine and East Jessamine high schools to memorialize a popular coach and student athlete who recently died, Dogget said.

Elliott County’s events include speeches by House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins, a cancer survivor, and a local man who lost 140 pounds without surgery. Festivities end with a concert by bluegrass star Don Rigsby.

Allen County citizens are building a two-mile bike and walking trail on property surrounding a Civil War site, Dumont Hill. Second Sunday activities there will include canon ball bowling.

Newport plans to close Monmouth Street between Fifth and 10th streets. Taylor County will include canoeing on the Green River. Franklin, Scott, Green and Adair counties all have big festivals planned around Second Sunday events.

UK’s Cooperative Extension Service is coordinating Second Sunday plans across the state, and some counties haven’t gotten involved because of vacancies in their extension offices, Dogget said. But anyone can step up and organize local events in those counties — and she hopes people will.

But the point of Second Sunday isn’t to get people outside exercising one day each October; it is to inspire them to start a regular exercise habit.

“What we need to do is change people’s lifestyles,” said Jay McChord, a Lexington councilman who helped create Second Sunday.

McChord also wants Second Sunday to attract national attention — and money — to Kentucky’s effort to shed its ranking as one of the nation’s least-healthy states.

He hopes exposure will attract millions in grant and foundation money to build a trail system throughout Kentucky so communities large and small won’t have to close streets for their citizens to have safe places to walk, run or bike.

Dr. Rick Lofgren, a physician at the University of Kentucky Hospital, appeared with McChord, Legacy Trail organizer Steve Austin and UK Agriculture Dean Scott Smith at the Lexington Forum’s monthly meeting Thursday to talk about trails, better health and Second Sunday.

Lofgren said he practiced in academic hospitals in many parts of the country before coming to UK five years ago. He noted that Kentucky ranks high nationally in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer — all of the health problems nobody wants.

“This is the sickest group of patients I’ve ever taken care of,” Lofgren said. “Much of what I see is preventable. It has to do with the lifestyles we have around here.”

Lofgren said regular exercise would help a lot — on Second Sunday, and every other day of the year.


Successful used bike sale benefits refugee program

September 1, 2009

A followup to my Friday column:

Pedal Power bike shop’s sale Saturday to benefit Shifting Gears didn’t last long. All 200 used bikes were sold well before noon.

“We were able to put money into an account to keep the program going and still write Kentucky Refugee Ministries a check for $3,000, which will provide for two households until self-sufficiency,” said Brad Flowers, who started Shifting Gears.

Shifting Gears provides restored, used bikes to newly arrived foreign refugees to give them some basic transportation. The bikes come from donations and trade-ins taken by Pedal Power.

Kentucky Refugee Ministries works with the U.S. State Department to resettle officially designated refugees who legally immigrate to Kentucky. It tries to provide them with furniture and other necessities until they can get settled and find work.

Response to Shifting Gears has been so strong that Pedal Power had many more bikes than it could restore, and it needed to clear out about 200 to free up space and raise money for spare parts.

Restoration labor is donated by Pedal Power employees and volunteers from the local cycling community. Last year, about 80 bikes were donated to refugees, with some children’s bikes going to The Nest, a social service agency on North Limestone.

The extra adult bikes were sold for $25, $50 or $75 each, and spare parts were sold for $1 each, “whether it was a wheel or a cable,” Flowers said.

“There was one guy that bought two bikes and 10 or so parts to fix up for people in his neighborhood who didn’t have bikes,” he said. “There were several international students from UK.”

A half-dozen volunteers from the bicycle group LexRides helped work the sale.

“As the number of (refugee) arrivals increases (from an average of 100 a year recently to about 200 a year currently) and as funding stays flat it is creative partnerships like this that will allow them to continue to provide basic services for these folks as they become oriented,” Flowers said.