Something exciting is about to happen along the Newtown Pike corridor between downtown and the Kentucky Horse Park.
It will happen in nearby fields and just over the hills. Along Cane Run Creek. Up through the Lexmark campus and Coldstream Park, across the University of Kentucky's Maine Chance Farm and past the Vulcan limestone quarry and Spindletop Farm.
In the 700 days left before the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, the city of Lexington will build a basic version of the Legacy Trail, a nine-mile bicycle and pedestrian path that is a key piece of the city's Greenway Master Plan.
What will the Legacy Trail be? Planners see it as a human connection between urban and rural Lexington, a place for recreation, art and education. But they really want to know what you want the trail to be.
This week, a series of public meetings are being held with "stakeholders" — more than 300 nearby property owners, neighborhood groups, community and arts organizations.
Beginning at 8:45 a.m. Saturday, there will be a public event called "Party on the Trail" at Coldstream Park to start publicizing the route and to ask for suggestions about what amenities should be developed around it.
"It has got to be more than a ribbon of asphalt," said Steve Austin, director of the Bluegrass Community Foundation's Legacy Center. "It's got to be a story about who we were, and what this place was and is. It's a story about where we're going to go and who we're going to become in the 21st century."
The idea of a trail from downtown to the Horse Park has been batted around for years. David Mohney, a UK architecture professor, had noted that much of the property between the two was in very few hands. The major landholders are Eastern State Hospital (soon to become the Bluegrass Community and Technical College campus), Lexmark, the University of Kentucky and Vulcan Materials.
Commerce Lexington's 2007 trip to Boulder, Colo., showed local leaders how important bicycle and pedestrian trails could be to improving a community's health and quality of life. Mayor Jim Newberry made the Legacy Trail a priority. Activist Marnie Holoubek, Urban County Councilman Jay McChord, UK Agriculture Dean Scott Smith and others started making things happen.
Keith Lovan of the city engineering department is overseeing the project. And its unofficial cheerleader is the Legacy Center, which is using money from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and other sources to see that the trail and an East End neighborhood revitalization project are accomplished as legacies of the 2010 Equestrian Games.
So far, more than $3 million has been raised to begin trail construction between the Horse Park and the intersection of Citation Boulevard and Newtown Pike. Initially, at least, much of the rest of the trail into town will run on existing pavement.
Austin took me on a tour of the route earlier this week. Several of us plan to ride it on bicycles before the party Saturday morning — if it isn't raining too hard.
The Legacy Trail would begin downtown at Cheapside Park, go west on Second Street to Jefferson Street and north through what is now the Eastern State property to the Northside YMCA on Loudon Avenue.
Austin said planners are working with Lexmark on a formal agreement to have the trail go through its campus. "Lexmark has been a good partner so far," he said.
Lexmark's property holds one of two keys to the trail's success: a private bridge that crosses New Circle Road. After crossing the bridge, the trail would run through Lexmark property along Cane Run Creek and other property near Newtown Pike to the intersection with Citation Boulevard.
Eventually, planners hope to build a bridge across Newtown Pike so the trail can continue seamlessly through the Coldstream campus and city park, which would have additional trail loops.
Once the trail leaves Coldstream Park and goes onto Maine Chance Farm, it meets another obscure piece of infrastructure that has been a godsend to trail planners: a small box tunnel under Interstate 75 that connects to the north end of the farm and the Spindletop property. The trail would probably enter the Horse Park at the campground.
Eventually, planners hope to connect the Legacy Trail to other trails and to the proposed Isaac Murphy Park in the East End neighborhood. McChord would like to see it go south from downtown, all the way through Jessamine County to the Kentucky River. To the west of downtown, Van Meter Pettit is planning the Town Branch Trail through the proposed Lexington Distillery District, another potential connection.
Linking Lexington's urban and rural neighborhoods in ways that don't require motor vehicles would be good for our health and sense of community. It also could help us and our visitors learn more about Lexington — and not just the usual history lessons from the 18th and 19th centuries.
More than 1,000 years ago, Fayette County was home to the Adena people, who left behind a huge mound of earth not far from the Horse Park. "Could we tell the story through landscape architecture and earthwork?" Austin wondered. "Could we tell the story of the pre-settlement environment — what trees and grasses were here?"
Austin also would like the trail to have kiosks explaining more recent history, such as how Lexmark's forerunner, IBM, led an economic shift toward manufacturing in Lexington in the 1950s at the campus that gave the world Courier typeface and the Selectric typewriter ball.
Who knows what you might be able to learn about your city someday, simply by lacing up your shoes or climbing on a bicycle.