Ultimate goal is to be able to use trails to travel state on foot
By Terri Darr McLean
Bluegrass Area Development District
(July 30, 2014) — Long after Daniel Boone forged his way through the Kentucky wilderness, modern-day pioneers are hoping to blaze a new trail in the Bluegrass State. Several of them, actually.
The trails, including 10 major routes, are part of the newly developed Cross Kentucky Master Trail Plan, a guidebook for trail development created by the state’s Office of Adventure Tourism. Once completed, the extensive network of trails would bring to life First Lady Jane Beshear’s vision to be able to travel across the state on foot, on bicycle or on horseback and Adventure Tourism’s mission to get people outdoors.
“Our charge is to get people back outside into nature, doing a variety of activities – hiking, biking, horseback riding and paddling. Not just for visitors’ health, but for our own,” said Elaine Wilson, executive director of Adventure Tourism. “At the same time, to impact the economic health of communities by making these long-distance connections.”
Basically, the Cross Kentucky Master Trail Plan identifies and incorporates existing trails throughout the state as well as proposes new ones – and then outlines how to connect them all together into one large trail system. Shane New, whose community planning staff at Bluegrass Area Development District in Lexington, spearheaded the plan’s design, said “think Appalachian Trail.”
“That’s the kind of long-distance trail we are looking at creating,” he said.
Indeed, with routes running east to west, north to south and points in-between, the trail system would connect thousands of miles of trails throughout the state, as well as tie into the trail systems of surrounding states. It would encompass state and national park trails, forest trails and even Kentucky Trail Towns – specially designated towns along the route that serve as gateways to the trail system – such as Morehead, Dawson Springs and Livingston.
“It’s ambitious, but with the support behind it and cooperation we’ve already seen in developing the plan, I really think it’s doable,” New said.
“There is already a lot of synergy taking place in Kentucky communities for greenway and trail connectivity. We took all those ambitions into consideration and have given a broad stroke visual composite points to connect to,” she said.
The Cross Kentucky Master Trail Plan, with this emphasis on building community consensus and support, is designed to be a how-to guide to help bring such a massive project to fruition.
“This is a map, but it’s also much more. It gives guidance to the communities or whomever wishes to try to create a trail – the guidance for making it happen,” New said.
Along with maps of existing trails, trails currently under construction and proposed trails, the plan outlines how to organize support for the project, acquire land, and construct and maintain a trail.
“The idea is that the locals can take this template and work from that to create trail projects in their communities that fit into the master plan. It’s not a ‘You shall build this here’ directive,’” New said.
Because of the state’s varied landscape and numerous existing trails, New and the BGADD staff sought input from a wide range of people, such as Sheltowee Trace Association director Steve Barbour, and Norma Pruitt with the Great River Road Region.
Additionally, Wilson said the project is a goal of the Kentucky Recreational Trails Authority, which has a wide range of members from a variety of interests. Over a four-year period, information for the project was gathered from every county.
“We’ve done some studying, we’ve talked to lots of people and we feel pretty good about how we designed the plan,” New added. “It’s been a real team effort.”
That team also included the 14 other area development districts in the state, which New said are “ideal partners” for such a project.
“The ADDs in each region of Kentucky know those regions well – they can identify the existing trails and locate spots for new ones. The BGADD spearheaded the plan’s design, but we got input from every other one,” he added.
Key to the Cross Kentucky Master Trail Plan are the 10 major routes that will make it possible for hikers, bikers and others to travel from one end of the state to the other. Two of the routes run from the eastern side to the western side, six run north to south throughout the state, and two run east to west through part of the state. Seventeen connector trails – trails that start or end along one of the main routes – are also identified.
“In a short time, we could complete a north-south section by extending Kentucky’s longest trail, the Sheltowee Trace, from Morehead to the Ohio River … since most of it is completed,” Wilson said.
Highlights of the 10 major routes:
The East-to-West Northern Route, which is approximately 430 miles long, is the longest of the proposed routes. It begins north of John James Audubon State Park in Henderson and takes users across the state in a northeasterly direction until it hits the Northern Kentucky area then turns southeast and connects to the north end of the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail. Out of the 430 miles, 49 miles along this route are existing trails.
The second-longest route the the East-to-West Southern Route at 370 miles. It starts at Columbus-Belmont State Park near Columbus in far Western Kentucky and ends at Cumberland Gap National Park in Eastern Kentucky. The far western portion follows part of the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail that passes through several states.
The smallest of the proposed main routes is the Great River Road Trailthat begins at the Reelfoot Lake National Wildlife Refuge on the Kentucky/Tennessee state line. This trail has been designated by the four Kentucky counties bordering the Mississippi River – Fulton, Hickman, Carlisle and Ballard. Several segments of the trail already exist and and considered great for viewing wildlife.
At 90 miles long, the Northern Routeof the Historic Trail of Tears. It begins in Guthrie at the Tennessee border and runs in a northwesterly direction ending near the unincorporated community of Joy.
The Barren River Lake to Rough River Lake Route is a 70-mile trek that takes users in a generally north/northwestern direction. A big highlight of this route is Mammoth Cave National Park. The proposed route connects into the park’s existing trail system.
The 128-mile Livingston to Louisville Route runs in a north/northwest direction and passes by such sites as Levi Jackson State Park, Perryville Battlefield State Historic Site, Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, and Fort Knox.
The town of Livingston is also the start of the Central Kentucky Route, a 133-mile trek that runs almost directly north to Berea and through Richmond. It continues through Fayette County, where it connects to the existing 12 miles of the Legacy Trail, and due north through Sadieville. The remainder of the route follows the Licking River, ending in Butler and the East-to-West Northern Route.
The Sheltowee Trace National Recreational Trail is an existing trail that is incorporated into the Cross Kentucky Master Trail. It is 307 miles long, 269 of which are in Kentucky and allows hiking, overnight backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding and off-road vehicle use in designated areas. Users can walk along the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River and the South Fork of the Cumberland River, which includes Cumberland Falls.
The Revised Jenny Wiley Trail begins at Fistrap Lake Wildlife Management Area and passes through the hills of Eastern Kentucky for approximately 129 miles in a mostly north-northwesterly direction. It ends in the unincorporated community of South Portsmouth. The original Jenny Wiley Trail, which was closed in the 1980s, was a 163-mile cross-country backpacking trail that crossed portions of nine counties. The revised trail will connect users to numerous state parks and lakes, as well as Pine Mountain State Scenic Trail and Sheltowee Trace.
Lastly, the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, which is already under development, is a 120-mile trail that will eventually link Breaks Interstate Park near Elkhorn City in the east with Cumberland Gap National Historic Park near Middlesboro to the west. The Pine Mountain Trail is also a link in the Great Eastern Trail, which is the nation’s newest long distance-hiking trail.
Because of the scope of the master trail plan, it is considered a long-term project. From concept to finished trail, there is a “fluid and dynamic process” that could take years to complete, New said. Or, as the plan itself states:
“Successfully built trails are often the result of a planning process which can involve months or even years, where trail advocates must nurture community support, help to draft a trails or bicycle-pedestrian component of the community’s comprehensive plan, and educated and encourage decision-makers and future trail users.”
But, as New pointed out, the benefits of such a project – better quality of life, improved livability of communities, resource protection, access to educational opportunities and transportation enhancement — will prove to be well worth the effort and time spent.
“People are getting excited about this — the idea itself,” he said. “It’s a great first step to have this down on paper.”