Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial kickoff for the summer travel season at Kentucky State Parks. The money spent at the parks helps communities across the state. The economic impact is nearly $900 million.
Kentucky State Parks have always been special to me. I spent a summer while a teenager helping with the construction of the beautiful lodge at Lake Barkley State Resort Park near my home in Cadiz.
In fact, the parks are special to many Kentuckians and travelers. Vacations, weekend getaways, weddings, fishing trips, golf outings, camping trips, school field trips, family reunions — all take place at our parks and create memories for our guests.
To those who have visited a state park recently, I thank them. For those who have not, I invite them to visit one this year. The park system boasts a dozen golf courses, 300 miles of hiking trails, swimming pools, beaches, marinas and recreational activities.
There are over 100 projects underway to make parks safer and aesthetically more pleasing as part of Gov. Matt Bevin’s $18 million “Refreshing the Finest” campaign. The work includes painting some of the 1,800 buildings, repairing sidewalks, refurbishing cottages and much more.
Work will continue through 2017, so please pardon the work during your visit. Parks will remain open and will continue to offer the excellent programs and recreational activities they are known for. In addition to traditional amenities, the parks will feature new attractions this year:
▪ John James Audubon State Park in Henderson has added 650 acres of wetlands, complete with a boardwalk that makes the area accessible to more people. It is a great place to see wildlife and a conservation success story that the community helped get off the ground.
▪ Levi Jackson Wilderness Road State Park in London recently opened the city-operated Tree Top Adventure — a series of ziplines, rope bridges and suspended tunnels. Your kids will love it.
▪ The lodge at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup reopened this spring. A fire caused the lodge to close in 2015.
▪ E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park in Louisville will open a new splash pad this summer, a project funded by the park’s friends group.
Many of our parks have friends groups — volunteers who help raise money and support projects. I would encourage Kentuckians to join one. The park system is also supported by the Kentucky State Parks Foundation, a statewide nonprofit. One of the foundation’s projects provides travel grants to schools for field trips and has helped 3,227 students visit a park.
Several parks may capture the interest of history buffs. These parks feature antebellum mansions, recreated pioneer forts, a Native American mound, Civil War sites and the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology. I am fascinated with the Battle of Perryville State Historic Site, where the largest Civil War battle in Kentucky took place. My grandson and I visited the national battle re-enactment that took place there last October.
I hope more people will spend time this year finding their favorite state park. For more information, visit www.parks.ky.gov.
Donnie Holland is the commissioner of the Kentucky State Parks.