Eco-tourism plan good for the land and economy

Eco-Tourism business will protect, preserve Boone Creek area

March 18, 2013 

Burgess Carey is the owner of Boone Creek Properties.

  • At issue: March 8 Herald-Leader editorial "Eco-tourism setback; developer's defiance undermines greater goal" and March 12 Herald-Leader article "Removal of zip lines ordered within 30 days; city warns of fines over zoning violation"

Because activity on my Boone Creek property has been featured on both the front and editorial pages recently, I thought this paper's readers deserve a fuller picture of the issues at play.

During the two decades I have owned the property, I have made major improvements; remediation of the toxic remains of a long gone service station and dumping spot; remodeling of an existing lodge and removal of invasive plant species.

Since 2001, I have operated a fishing and outdoor recreation club there. I am now expanding the range of activities to include a first-class canopy tour that would include education about the area's native flora and fauna and the historic significance of this spot in Kentucky's founding and early development.

The creek and palisades on this property are among the most stunningly beautiful anywhere, but most Lexing tonians have never seen it. Why would a businessman and developer like me care about such issues? I care because I am also an ardent outdoorsman and environmentalist, with longstanding memberships in the Sierra Club, Trout Unlimited, Bluegrass Wildwater Association and numerous other sporting and conservation organizations.

My recent actions have been billed as illegal and in defiance of the local government. This simply isn't true. What I am pursuing is clarification of a zoning interpretation, and throughout this process, I believe I have and will respect all applicable laws and regulations and operate within the permits granted to me.

Am I appealing certain government interpretations as is my right as property owner, taxpayer and voter? Certainly. In the same way anyone has a right to appeal a property valuation or contest a speeding ticket. I may prevail or not, but I don't deserve to be mischaracterized for doing so.

But this focus on a particular zoning interpretation obscures a broader issue that is important to anyone who wants to see our unique landscape safeguarded for the long term.

That issue is: Can the zoning and land-use regulations (which I agree are necessary) be flexible enough to permit rural landowners to responsibly and sustainably operate commercial ventures if income from traditional agriculture is insufficient to fund responsible stewardship of the land?

The good news is that regulation can be accommodating. Anyone who has enjoyed a meal at our local winery, lost themselves in a corn maze or taken a tour of a celebrated horse farm has benefited from a flexible approach to regulation that permits landowners to earn enough to maintain the unique landscape and share that asset responsibly with their fellow residents.

I simply wish to do the same with my land.

My land is not suitable for traditional agriculture. But canopy tours are a well-established way of educating the public and funding the maintenance of unique and treasured areas. From the Berkshires to the rainforests of Costa Rica, canopy tours connected with zip lines educate and employ thousands.

One can take commercial canopy tours in the Red River Gorge, and the city has discussed such installations in its own parks. Opponents of my plan have publicly admitted that canopy tours are a good idea — somewhere else — but have yet to make any plausible argument about why my plans set a dangerous precedent or infringe on their rights as nearby landowners.

Local residents have a right, I believe, to enjoy one of the most beautiful spots in the country, right here in Fayette County. Further, I believe it is crucial to educate our public about the issues involved in preserving indigenous species and Boone Creek's role in pioneer history.

My own young children are learning these things at an early age, and I would like to offer them the option to continue this work when they are old enough.

Finally, this project would create well over 30 good jobs here in Fayette County — jobs that many young people would love to have. Barring this type of responsible commercial activity only serves to put this land and land like it at greater peril for the kind of development none of us wants — or keeps it locked away, only for those who can afford it.

At issue: March 8 Herald-Leader editorial "Eco-tourism setback; developer's defiance undermines greater goal" and March 12 Herald-Leader article "Removal of zip lines ordered within 30 days; city warns of fines over zoning violation"

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