Tom Eblen: $10 million Legacy Trail is money well spent

Crews were finishing the paving last week on a section through University of Kentucky farm property just north of Interstate 75. The trail runs from the North Lexington Family YMCA on Loudon Avenue to the Horse Park.
Crews were finishing the paving last week on a section through University of Kentucky farm property just north of Interstate 75. The trail runs from the North Lexington Family YMCA on Loudon Avenue to the Horse Park.

What is it like to bike the new Legacy Trail? That's what I wanted to know before this Sunday's opening.

Early last week, as the sun was rising on a beautiful late-summer morning, I took a preview ride on the trail's 71/2-mile main section with project manager Keith Lovan, Mayor Jim Newberry and Steve Austin, director of the Bluegrass Community Foundation's Legacy Center, which is working with the city to build the trail.

We met at the North Lexington Family YMCA on Loudon Avenue and rode north to the Kentucky Horse Park. As we mounted our bicycles in the parking lot, the first thing I noticed were handsome limestone walls and pillars. They mark each end of the trail, adding a touch of Bluegrass elegance.

We pedaled over a small hill, behind a hotel and along Newtown Pike beside Lexmark. The trail then went over New Circle Road on a private bridge that IBM, Lexmark's predecessor, built decades ago to connect its complex.

That bridge was one of two pre-existing features that made the Legacy Trail possible. The other was a small tunnel under Interstate 75 built when the highway split the University of Kentucky's Coldstream and Maine Chance research farms.

Other fortunate breaks for the project: economic stimulus money from the Obama administration, and the fact that the trail required easement negotiations with only six property owners.

We left Lexmark's property by crossing the first of seven arched steel bridges and a meadow along Cane Run Creek. The trail again took us along Newtown Pike beside a Rosenstein Development property to the intersection of Citation Boulevard. We waited for the crosswalk, as everyone will have to do for a few more years. Once a planned upgrade of Newtown Pike is completed, the trail will have its own bridge over the busy highway into the Coldstream Research Park.

"I think it's great that the trail is so visible," Newberry said. "As motorists drive along and see cyclists on the trail, it might make them think about getting a bike, or getting out the bike they already have."

We rode along Citation Boulevard, then glided down a small hill where the trail goes beneath a bridge. This mile-long section of trail through a flood plain is made of pervious concrete, which allows water to pass through it. It is more environmentally friendly than asphalt, but it costs four times as much, Lovan said.

We crossed through the tunnel under I-75 to Maine Chance Farm, where we could see the sun rising over the Irish round tower on Castleton Lyons Farm in the distance. On the north side of the farm, we came to a pretty meadow that UK donated to the trail. We agreed that it would become a popular picnic spot.

We rode past Spindletop Hall and reached the northern trailhead at the Kentucky Horse Park. There is a parking lot there, as there is at the YMCA and at Coldstream Park. Across Ironworks Pike, the trail continues a short distance, entering the horse park beside the campground gate.

On the morning of our ride, there was still a lot of work to be done. We went around a few paving crews and had to stop and lift our bikes across most of the bridges, which hadn't been connected to the trail yet. But by Sunday, it will be a smooth ride, Lovan said.

Landscaping won't be finished, and all of the interpretive signs and public art won't be installed until next year. Eventually, the trail will be 12 miles long, extending south from the YMCA along Jefferson and Third streets to the new Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden at East Third Street and Midland Avenue.

"If this is not wildly popular, I will be stunned," Newberry said of the Legacy Trail before he hitched a ride to an appointment downtown and Lovan, Austin and I turned around to ride back to the YMCA. "I think it's spectacular. It's a fabulous addition to the community."

I agree. The $10 million investment in the Legacy Trail is a drop in the bucket compared with what we routinely spend on highways and other public improvements. The long-term benefits — in public health, recreation and community enhancement — will be huge.