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.”

Mayer may not become mayor, but he has some good ideas

May 10, 2014

What makes a good mayor? Someone with both good ideas and the political and management skills to make them happen. Jim Gray has demonstrated both qualities during his four-year term.

Gray has two challengers for re-election in the May 20 primary: Anthany Beatty, who became a University of Kentucky vice president after retiring as Lexington’s police chief, and Danny Mayer, an English professor at Bluegrass Community and Technical College who for four years published the community newspaper North of Center.

Beatty has demonstrated good management and political skills, but he doesn’t seem to have many ideas. His campaign website and public statements have offered only vague generalities about city issues and what he would do as mayor.

Mayer has little political or management experience, but he has developed a detailed issues platform. While some of his proposals are controversial, there are good ideas there worth discussing.

The Gray and Beatty campaigns have raised well into six figures. Mayer said he has taken only three contributions totaling $250 and has loaned his campaign a few hundred more. He hasn’t even invested in yard signs, which he admits was a mistake, and is mostly campaigning door-to-door and online.

“A lot of my work has been trying to plan out alternative visions and ideas; I look at it as the end point of what I did with North of Center,” Mayer said. “But rather than just talking about what we are doing wrong, this was a way to flesh out a positive vision for the city.”


Danny Mayer

Among Mayer’s proposals is a $15 hourly minimum wage for city employees and contractors, as Seattle is considering. He also wants to decriminalize marijuana use, which probably would require state rather than just city action. Both moves, he said, would strengthen low-income neighborhoods by putting more money in families’ pockets and fewer people in jail.

Mayer’s two main proposals are less controversial, and they make so much sense that they should be part of the election conversation whether or not he is the candidate who emerges from the primary to challenge Gray in November.

Mayer said that as mayor he would strategically invest in growing Lexington’s local food economy and developing the city’s “greenways” — abused and neglected urban streams and watersheds whose restoration could improve overall water quality, create recreational opportunities and provide paths for walkers and cyclists.

Lexington developed an extensive Greenways Master Plan in 2001, which was approved by the Planning Commission. But Mayer said too little has been done to implement and expand on that plan.

Under a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lexington must spend hundreds of millions of dollars to correct long-ignored water quality problems caused by suburban development. That provides the perfect opportunity to make the most of our natural greenways, Mayer said.

Greenway development could help connect Lexington’s fragmented trail system, making it easier for suburban residents to get around on foot or bike. Modest infrastructure investments at key connecting points around Lexington could make a big difference, he said.

More walking and biking trails, along with investment in Lextran to expand routes and service hours would reduce traffic congestion and air pollution and increase mobility for low-income residents.

Mayer also said that as mayor he would budget $1 million for investments in local food, which has been growing in popularity. Growth in that sector will be important as climate change and rising transportation costs erode the nation’s industrial agriculture models of the past few decades.

Nutritious local food also fights obesity and other health problems that are contributing to rising health care costs, Mayer noted.

Investment in local food projects would create work for the growing number of UK and BCTC students graduating with sustainable agriculture expertise, as well as lower-skilled people who need jobs. It also would allow non-profit organizations such as Seedleaf and Food Chain to build on work they already are doing.

Some unused city park land could be used for expanding greenway trails or producing food, Mayer said, and the city could do more to promote backyard and community gardens.

“I see that as a 21st century economy,” he said. “These markets and segments are growing, but we haven’t talked about how we could legitimately scale them up. You just need models and an emphasis, like we did with Victory Gardens in the 1940s.”

Officials open extension of Lexington’s first recreational rail trail

September 30, 2013


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.

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.

Celebrate Sunday afternoon on Town Branch Trail

August 12, 2010

Town Branch Trail organizers are inviting the public to come out to Trailapalooza on Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The celebration will be held along the 1.8 miles of completed trail that extends from Leestown Road to Alexandria Drive west of downtown.

Trailapalooza will include live music, refreshments and a scavenger hunt. People (mainly kids) will be given a “passport” with questions about history and the environment along the new biking and walking trail. They will find answers to those questions on signs and markers along the trail. Prizes include a $200 gift certificate to Pedal Power bike shop, a $100 gift certificate to Phillip Gall’s outdoor store and memberships to Urban Active gym.

Eventually, the trail will run eight miles along Town Branch Creek from Leestown Road to Manchester Street downtown. Funding has been secured and design is under way for another 1.5-mile section of the trail. That section will connect McConnell Springs, the site where Lexington was founded, with the new Distillery District arts and entertainment area along Manchester Street near Rupp Arena.

Progress has been slower on Town Branch Trail than the 9-mile Legacy Trail, which is nearing completion between downtown’s East End and the Kentucky Horse Park. Part of the reason is that property issues are much more complicated along Town Branch, much of which has been developed property for two centuries. “Some of the industrial property inside New Circle Road is a puzzle,” Town Branch Trail President Van Meter Pettit says. “It just takes a lot of time to sort out.”

Speaking of the Legacy Trail, mark your calendar for its grand opening celebration, Sunday afternoon, Sept. 12.

First piece of Town Branch Trail opens next weekend

September 5, 2009

Lexington was born and grew up around the Town Branch of South Elkhorn Creek, but over the past century we’ve done our best to pollute it, bury it and forget about it.

Water finds its way, though, even if it sometimes needs help.

Town Branch Trail Inc. has been working for a decade to develop a greenway along the creek west of downtown. The first fruits of those labors will be on display next weekend, when the initial two-mile section of the trail is opened with a benefit concert and bicycle rally.

The Freedom Concert, with music by Cora Lee and the Townies and Fifth on the Floor, is at 8 p.m. Friday at the new Buster’s in the restored Old Tarr Distillery, which backs up to the creek on Manchester Street. Admission is $10, with all proceeds going to the trail project.

The next morning at 8:15, the public is invited to meet at Cheapside for a police-escorted 10-mile bicycle ride out and back on roads to the completed trail section off Leestown Road and Alexandria Drive. There will be a hospitality tent at Lewis Manor, a circa 1800 home beside the trail in Marehaven subdivision.

When I walked the trail last week, people were already using it.

Workers had just installed stone-cutter Richard McAlister’s beautiful sandstone benches and furlong posts made of finely crafted “Kentucky marble” limestone. And there were several new signs along the trail explaining Central Kentucky’s landscape, geology and ecology.

Van Meter Pettit, the Lexington architect who put together the trail project, sees it as more than a place to exercise; it’s a way to learn about Lexington’s history and environment. It’s also a way to rehabilitate and protect the watershed and help deal with runoff and pollution problems that have grown with the city.

“There is a compelling story to why we are the way we are that even many natives don’t understand,” he said. For example: Lexington’s downtown is long and narrow because it was built along Town Branch, which now flows beneath Vine Street.

Town Branch runs along the west side of the finished section of trail, just beyond tracks that were part of Kentucky’s first railroad line.

In one section, the trail goes around a giant, centuries-old tree, surrounded by a stand of native cane. When the first pioneers came here 250 years ago, much of the Bluegrass was covered with cane. Now, it’s hard to find.

“This is about as good a snapshot of authentic Kentucky as you can get,” Pettit said.

On the east side of the trail is Central Kentucky’s modern landscape: several new subdivisions.

Efforts to build trails in established neighborhoods often are met with “not in my backyard” opposition. But these subdivisions are new, and many homeowners are building decks and landscaping their yards to take advantage of trail access.

Indeed, subdivision developer Dennis Anderson was key to the Town Branch Trail’s success. That’s because he realized the trail would not only be an amenity for his development, but would help with drainage and be a financially attractive way to use undevelopable land.

“Without him,” Pettit said, “this trail would have been a nice idea that never would have happened.”

With this section of trail finished, Pettit is now turning his attention to another one-mile section that has funding. The remaining five miles is under feasibility study while trail organizers seek money, easements and rights of way.

So far, Town Branch Trail has received about $2 million in grants and other funding and $1 million worth of donated land, Pettit said.

Plans call for the trail to eventually be at least eight miles long, going from this first finished section to downtown. It will end along Manchester Street near Rupp Arena, where developers of the Distillery District plan to rehabilitate the stream and incorporate the trail into their multi-use project.

Eventually, Pettit would like Town Branch Trail to connect with the nine-mile Legacy Trail being built from downtown to the Kentucky Horse Park, as well as other walking and bike paths.

Even further in the future, there is talk of developing a trail beside the railroad line from Lexington to Versailles and eventually Frankfort.

So come out and see this first piece of Town Branch Trail. You’ll get some exercise, learn about Lexington and see how creative people are harnessing our rich heritage to literally pave the way to a better future.

Neighborhoods should welcome, not fear trails

July 26, 2009

One of the biggest obstacles faced by communities trying to develop bicycle and pedestrian trails is the attitude of NIMBY: Not in my back yard.

Some people fear trails will bring crime into their neighborhoods, even though common sense would tell them that criminals prefer to travel in vehicles on their already plentiful roads.

Some homeowners worry that trails will hurt their property values, even though the experience nationwide is that trails actually raise property values. Why? Because, once built, trails become a popular neighborhood amenity.

A great example of NIMBY is playing out in the Madison County city of Berea. Since the 1970s, there have been plans for a trail linking the city to Indian Fort Mountain, site of some great hiking trails and an outdoor theater.

The Indian Fort Shared Use Trail would be about four miles long and restricted to pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. It would be built on land owned by the city or Berea College, which is donating an easement. No private land would be used.

However, a 4,000-foot section of the proposed trail has become controversial because, although it would be on college-owned land, it would pass near some suburban homes.

Berea’s City Council was to vote on the trail last week, but there wasn’t a quorum. For more than an hour, though, citizens commented on the trail. Most lived in the suburban homes, and they opposed the trail.

There were many reasons: They wanted the money spent on other things. They didn’t want strangers near their homes. They didn’t want any development that might disturb wildlife on the college-owned land.

“They’ve had this uninterrupted view and, you might say, use of the college property, and now some other use might be made of it,” said Paul Stolte, a Berea resident who supports the trail.

In addition to helping people get from Berea to Indian Fort, the trail would help residents in that growing suburban area have a way to get into town that doesn’t require a motor vehicle.

“I think it’s going to be an important transportation network,” Stolte said.

Neighborhood trail opponents have proposed an alternative route that would take the trail on the other side of the college property — near other homes instead of theirs.

“That is not the solution; I’ve already started getting calls from those people saying ‘we don’t want it behind our back yard,'” said City Council member Violet Farmer.

“I don’t think (the trail) would be the problem people perceive it to be,” Farmer said, although she understands the concerns.

“I would like to see a network of bike and pedestrian shared paths in town and throughout town,” she said. “It’s a really good project. I don’t know if we can find a solution or not.”

It’s clear that the successful cities of the future will be those that provide residents with safe places to exercise as well as environmentally friendly alternatives to driving cars.

The Indian Fort Shared Use Trail will be back on the Berea City Council’s agenda on Tuesday. Will council members give in to the “not in my back yard” sentiment? Or will they vote for the greater good and the community’s future?

Tour shows how bikes fit into city’s big picture

May 20, 2009
Arthur Ross, Madison's pedestrian-bicycle coordinator, led the bicycle tour that included five Urban County Council members.

Arthur Ross, Madison's pedestrian-bicycle coordinator, led a bike tour that included five Urban County Council members. Photo by Tom Eblen

One of the most popular optional activities during Commerce Lexington’s trip to Madison, WI, was a bicycle tour of the city’s extensive trail network.

It didn’t hurt that the weather was perfect Tuesday afternoon: sunny and in the 70s.

About 50 Lexington visitors paid to rent bikes for a 7-12 mile ride. The group included five six Urban County Council members: Kevin Stinnett, George Myers, Doug Martin, Chuck Ellinger, Jay McChord and Tom Blues.

Madison is regarded as one of the nation’s best cities for bicycling and walking, with a 150-mile network of trails. Many of the trails are popular recreation facilities, especially those around the lakes on either side of downtown Madison.

But what was notable was how trails and bike lanes have been integrated into Madison’s street and sidewalk network. It’s not a novelty; it’s serious transportation and a tool for better connecting Madison’s neighborhoods, businesses and public venues.

The city requires new developments and buildings to have parking facilities for bicycles as well as cars. And when it snows — as it does a lot here — trails are cleared as quickly as streets, because so many people bike to work, said Arthur Ross, Madison’s pedestrian-bicycle coordinator.

In addition to commuters and recreational riders, many people now run errands on bikes and a growing number of businesses are using them to make deliveries, Ross said.

While some neighborhoods have resisted new trails, fearing they would bring in a “bad element,” there’s no evidence of that. Ross said property values of homes often rise after trails are built near them.

Ross noted that trails are especially important in cul de sac neighborhoods. The intent of cul de sacs is to isolate people from the impact of automobiles and traffic, but they shouldn’t isolate people from each other, he said.

The key to successful integration of trails, bike lanes and roads is public education and good design that minimizes traffic conflicts. That was evident during the trail ride, as intersections where the trail crossed streets were carefully marked for both drivers and cyclists. Most roads also accommodate bicycles.

Halfway through the tour, the group stopped for lunch at Strand Associates, a Madison-based engineering firm with a vice president who lives in Lexington, Mike Woolum. Strand is doing the design work for Lexington’s Legacy Trail, which by the end of next year will connect downtown Lexington with the Kentucky Horse Park.