Fayette County

Arboretum bicycle trail moves forward despite criticism from neighbors

The blue water tower that stands in the The Arboretum is visible from the edge of the the University of Kentucky's the Greg Page Apartments campus housing. A 12-foot wide bike path is planned between the apartments and the Arboretum grounds.
The blue water tower that stands in the The Arboretum is visible from the edge of the the University of Kentucky's the Greg Page Apartments campus housing. A 12-foot wide bike path is planned between the apartments and the Arboretum grounds. Herald-Leader

A proposed trail that would route bicyclists from the University of Kentucky campus onto off-campus side roads is moving forward despite criticism from residents who live near The Arboretum.

The university plans to create a 12-foot-wide path that would cut through the western border of The Arboretum's Walnut Woods, requiring the removal of non-native trees next to the back yards of about a dozen homes on McDonald Avenue.

Residents have said there are more direct, less invasive and safer routes from campus to the Bellefonte Drive bike route.

They also are worried that the decision to put the path on the edge of The Arboretum's property — rather than through the middle of the botanical garden — indicates city and university officials are considering enclosing The Arboretum with a fence.

"That would have a very big impact on this neighborhood in particular, as well as anyone who wants to use The Arboretum," said Laura Stouffer, president of the neighborhood association for Southern Heights, which abuts The Arboretum.

But officials say a fence is not coming anytime soon, and that the path is not related to any plans for a fence.

A perimeter fence has been in the facility's master plan since it opened in 1991, and a report completed last month by the Commission on Arboretum Strategic Planning and submitted to Scott Smith, the dean of UK's College of Agriculture, brought it back into public discussion.

The Arboretum, a joint project between UK and the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, is funded by the city and UK, as well as by donations. Smith said The Arboretum will need new ways to raise money as it expands exhibits and facilities. The report mentioned that a perimeter fence would be required for The Arboretum to charge admission for special events and exhibits. Other fundraising suggestions in the report included corporate sponsorships, plant sales and a retail gift shop.

Marcia Farris, director of The Arboretum, said the 100-plus-acre greenspace does not now have money to build a fence, and that it was not a priority. Priority projects include improvements to the children's garden and the construction of free-standing bathrooms.

Smith and Vice Mayor Linda Gorton, who served on the strategic planning commission, also said a fence is not imminent.

"That would be an extreme solution and definitely is not in the immediate future," Smith said.

And Shane Tedder, UK's stainability coordinator and member of Bicycle Advisory Committee, who is coordinating the path project, said he has been working on it for several years and has never heard it mentioned in connection with a fence.

The Walnut Woods path will connect University Court, behind Baptist Health Lexington, to Shady Lane, creating a direct route from campus to Southern Heights and surrounding neighborhoods where many hospital and university employees live.

Another nearby extension will create a shared-use path through UK's blue lot that will join up with University Court.

Even though the Walnut Woods path seems like a done deal, not all neighbors are on board with it, Stouffer said. They are concerned that Shady Lane and nearby side streets are too narrow, too overgrown and too busy to accommodate an influx of cyclists.

"Shady Lane is widely used. We get a lot of the hospital traffic when they leave work shifts, so they kind of zoom in and out of there," she said. "It's a busy road and it has some blind spots, and they're proposing that this bike route intersects with it, but they have not told us what they would do to improve safety."

Cyclists will be routed through the side streets onto Bellefonte Drive, which connects with designated bike routes throughout the city. Currently, many cyclists coming to and from campus use Bellefonte, which dead-ends into a walking trail at The Arboretum near the base of the water tower.

Stouffer said a shared-use trail from the end of Bellefonte to Alumni Drive, through The Arboretum, would be a better option for most cyclists.

Tedder said the Walnut Woods path is now being designed. Its final appearance and funding source has not been determined, but he expected construction to begin in the next year or two at a cost of around $100,000.

Tedder said the path is intended to prevent bicyclists from riding through The Arboretum's children's garden and from riding on walking trails, which is technically off-limits because the trails are not wide enough to accommodate both walkers and cyclists. The path also was meant to accommodate upcoming changes to the Alumni Drive corridor in the University of Kentucky's Master Plan, such as the relocation of the university's baseball complex.

"What we're trying to give is a safer, better-designed option," Tedder said.