Historic fences saved in remodeling of Paris Pike are crumbling

sosborne@herald-leader.comJune 8, 2014 

The rock fences that line Paris Pike are rife with historical significance. Some of the rock fences date to the 19th century, when Irish immigrants found work building the enclosures for plantation owners in the Bluegrass region who wanted to emulate the beauty of English country estates.

The state went to a lot of effort to preserve, move and protect the fences as part of a nearly $7.5 million-per-mile Paris Pike renovation that was designed to blend into, rather than consume, the landscape. At $93 million, the Paris Pike makeover was one of the most expensive road projects of its time and kind when it opened in 2003.

Eleven years later, significant chunks of the fences have crumbled, and there isn't money set aside for repairs.

Henry Alexander said he has noticed increasing portions of the historic rock wall fences deteriorating in recent months.

"It's kind of bad in spots," said Alexander, retired general manager of Sterling Stud Farm in Lexington and past chairman of the Paris Pike Corridor Commission. "I don't know whether somebody hit them or if it's the weather. Some of the old fences in the median in the middle are getting in rough shape."

The freeze-thaw cycle of winter and automobile impacts are likely culprits, said Natasha Lacy, public information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The state is responsible for repairing the fences in the median of the 12.5-mile route between Paris and Lexington.

Those median rock fences previously were on the road frontage of farms on either side of the road. If the fences couldn't be avoided during the renovation, they were dismantled and reconstructed, said Phil Logsdon, assistant director of Environmental Analysis for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and former environmental coordinator for the Paris Pike project. About 2 miles of fences were rebuilt, he said.

Most of the rock fences affected during the widening were in Fayette County near Elmendorf and Normandy farms, Logsdon said.

Alexander said Millennium Farm and other property on the western side of the project also were affected.

Horse farm owners are much quicker at performing needed repairs to their rock fences, which line either side of Paris Pike, Alexander said.

"They get on them a little faster," he said. "The highway department is a little bit slow. I don't know how important those things are to the highway department."

Repairs on the historic rock fences have been done intermittently since the Paris Pike project was completed in 2003.

In 2008 and 2009, Blackburn Correctional Complex joined with the Dry Stone Conservancy and the Transportation Cabinet to clear vegetation around the fences and make repairs.

Blackburn funded the effort as a training program for prisoners at no cost for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet. The program addressed about 50 breaches in the rock fences; when completed in 2009, the fences were fully repaired, according to Lacy.

Otherwise, the Transportation Cabinet planned to let the rock fences in the pike's median decay following completion of the renovation, in accordance with the approach stipulated in an agreement addressing impacts to historical properties in Kentucky.

Attitudes toward the upkeep of the fences have changed over time, partly due to complaints the cabinet received from citizens concerned about the historic rock fences crumbling, Lacy said. But other maintenance needs often take precedence over repairing the rock fences.

In 2012, the cabinet and Dry Stone Conservancy partnered to train state staff in dry stone construction techniques and design.

Logsdon said repairs to damaged rock fences were manageable if done consistently.

"It probably averages to about $180 a foot for us to reconstruct a rock fence," he said. "That's just a ballpark figure."

Alexander said upkeep for the fences was a perpetual effort.

"Maintaining rock fences is an expensive project because they are always tumbling or falling or something happening," he said. "It's almost a constant repair process."

Neil Rippingale was brought in 13 years ago by the Dry Stone Conservancy to restore and build the Paris Pike fences.

Rippingale, a native of Scotland and the conservancy's training program manager, has used his stone masonry expertise in projects in 30 countries and 37 U.S. states.

In late May, Rippingale led a two-day workshop for the cabinet, but the sessions, held twice a year, typically fix only 20- to 30-foot sections of damaged fence, Logsdon said.

The fences are important to the conservancy, said Jane Wooley, executive director of the Dry Stone Conservancy.

Rippingale said the training sessions help preserve the fences and the skills required to fix them.

"If we just let it go then you've lost a part of your history," he said. "I think its very important to keep that part of the cultural history alive."

Phone: (859) 231-3308.Twitter: @samo430 Email: sosborne@herald-leader.com.

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