Recreational facility best use of Boone Creek land

CAnopy-tours industry young, perfect for area

February 13, 2012 

Burgess Carey, chairman of the board of the Lexington Public Library, at "A Night of Literary Feasts" at the Central Library on Jan. 30, 2009. Photo by Howdy Snyder | Staff

  • At issue: Jan. 28 Herald-Leader article, "City board rejects plan for Boone Creek; Proposed adventure park seen as zoning violation"

Thank you to all of the supporters of my recently proposed Boone Creek Outdoors recreational facility.

The lengthy process, begun in July with our consultation of the Lexington planning department, was followed by multiple meetings with interested stakeholders and culminated with the Board of Adjustment's vote to deny the proposal 4-3, fearful that a text-amendment zone change is necessary instead.

We will propose a text amendment to the zoning ordinance within a week, as suggested by the opponents of the Board of Adjustment application. We hope to receive their support.

This project has the potential to imprint a new and indelible element to the signature brands of Central Kentucky: a potentially world-class canopy tour that would support a private recreational facility, offering the public a venue to hike, fish, bike and generally experience and learn about the spectacular natural and historic resources to be found in southern Fayette County.

The location — between Interstate 75, Boone Creek and the Kentucky River — has been home to a gas station, restaurant, rock quarry, grist mill, distillery, warehouses, an oil refinery pumping station and more and is now a privately owned cattle farm.

Once an important hub of early commercial and industrial activity, the site was severely impacted by the construction of the interstate, which left it a marginal agricultural property, at best. It is now subject to a heartbreaking onslaught of invasive species that threatens to choke out the property's remaining native flora and destroy important wildlife habitat.

The question: How can this privately held property be used in a manner that is sustainable, environmentally and economically; a use that generates revenue without government subsidies to care for its stewardship and reverse its environmental decline?

The answer is not traditional agriculture; there are no prime soils and the grazing of livestock is contributing to the environmental degradation.

The answer is ecotourism. We are proposing a recreational facility that offers outdoor activities and environmental education and generates sufficient revenue for sustainable land management. Strict protectionism, which limits use of this geologically unique property to unsustainable agricultural practices, is clearly failing.

Although our city has identified new public green space and increased recreational opportunities as priorities, prospects in the rural area are limited for sustainable ecotourism projects.

The horse industry has been largely responsible for the preservation of the rural greenbelt, but horse farms cannot provide more than a hands-off interaction with rural lands. It is impractical for government ownership to be the only means by which citizens access and interact with nature.

Our canopy tour will provide up to 30 new jobs. Canopy tours, as opposed to "zip-line rides," were first developed by biologists to gain perspectives in the rainforest that were otherwise impossible. They incorporate a variety of elements including zip lines, suspension bridges, rappeling, rope ladders, platforms and spiral staircases. They allow participants to experience the ecosystem by zipping and hiking through treetops without ever touching the ground, having fun, challenging themselves and learning something along the way.

Canopy tours have exploded in the United States since 2005, with perhaps 50 having been developed, including in forward-thinking communities such as Asheville, N.C., and Austin, Texas. The industry is young and evolving.

Like the ski industry in the 1960s and the whitewater-rafting industry in the 1970s, the current challenge is to identify the best locations. As it turns out, Fayette County has a world-class location for a canopy tour right here in our own backyard, just off of I-75.

The challenge Lexington faces is acting on its priorities and deciding how its rural landscape is to be used. "The highest and best use" for the properties included in the Boone Creek development plan has been identified, using the principles that the leaders of this community have published and promoted for decades.

This project represents new ideas, which sometimes mean change, and change often brings fear. People react to fear in a variety of ways, but as the elements in a canopy tour can teach us, when we learn to embrace and manage our fears, we are often able to achieve more than we thought possible.

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