It's a sign of just how incremental progress can be that there's now real hope the Legacy Trail — begun as a "legacy" project to memorialize Lexington's first-ever hosting of the World Equestrian Games in 2010 — will be finished before the 2018 Games, which Lexington is in the running for.
Thousands of people already use the trail that connects Lexington's north end to the Kentucky Horse Park, which hosted the games. The paved, 12-foot wide, 8.4 mile- long stretch of trail offers walkers, runners, skateboarders and cyclists an insider's view of that place where Lexington's urban outskirts meet the Bluegrass. It passes new developments, Lexmark, University of Kentucky research fields, historic Spindletop Hall, Coldstream Research Park and more on its way to the iconic equine landscape near the Horse Park.
Recent news makes it clear the final stretch — developing a small park to serve as the urban trailhead, and linking it with the Northside Y — is close to becoming a reality. City officials said last week the state had given its approval to take bids and begin work on the Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at Third St. and Midland Avenue, a small park intended as the trailhead for both the Legacy Trail and eventually the Town Branch Trail. Just this week, the Urban County Council made it clear that it wants to use some of the money in the city's coffers to complete the final link between the Memorial Art Garden and the Northside Y, creating a 12-mile ride through this area's equine history, from where Isaac Murphy rode horses in the 19th century to the Horse Park, the first U.S. location to host the World Equestrian Games.
This is more than just a feel-good story about a pretty trail. And it's more than just a nice story about a resource that only a few Lexingtonians will ever use, as Councilman Julian Beard opined at a meeting this week.
Lexington and Fayette County were the first city and county in the state to create a combined government in 1974, giving our community the ungainly Urban County Government name. Despite that political alignment the urban and the rural areas have not been well connected physically. People wanting to walk, run or cycle in the farmland would load into a car and drive to a starting point. Even at that, many people don't want to cycle on roads shared with cars, and almost nobody would take kids on one. The Legacy Trail finally offers a safe, welcoming way to enjoy Lexington's rural landscape from outside a motorized vehicle.
Right now there isn't a system to count people on the Legacy Trail so no one knows just how much use it actually gets. But events on the Trail regularly draw hundreds and day-in day-out users are never alone. It is also a place where on weekends it's common to see entire families walking and cycling together. Firmly rooted in Lexington's north end, the Legacy Trail also seems to draw a much higher precentage of minority users than most of the community's parks and trails.
The role of amenities like the Legacy Trail in economic development also deserves mention. Certainly, being located on or near a long, scenic, well-maintained trail is an advantage for businesses like Lexmark, Tempur-Pedic, Hewlett-Packard and Bingham McCutcheon in recruiting the talented, highly-paid professionals they need.
Trail building, like economic development, may require a long, hard effort but it's a longterm investment that we must make.