Zipline not a natural for Boone Creek

Boone Creek Outdoors’ canopy tour includes ziplines and swinging bridges over the gorge formed by Boone Creek shortly before it empties into the Kentucky River along the Palisades.
Boone Creek Outdoors’ canopy tour includes ziplines and swinging bridges over the gorge formed by Boone Creek shortly before it empties into the Kentucky River along the Palisades. teblen@herald-leader.com

The Fayette County Neighborhood Council supports the Boone Creek and Old Richmond Road neighborhood associations in their opposition to the proposed Boone Creek zipline development in southeastern Fayette County.

Kentuckians have an unusually strong sense of place whether that means restoring the county courthouse on Main Street, protecting horse farms, wearing University of Kentucky gear, or appreciating history and culture. A strong history of planning supports this sense of place and, if done right, considers precedent, demands quality and design in development and assures that development is in context with surrounding property and neighborhoods.

In the case of the proposed zipline, planning has been unsuccessful.

The zipline developer started the problem by constructing and operating illegally in violation of Fayette County’s zoning ordinances. Litigation had to proceed to the Kentucky Supreme Court to shut it down. Opposition was stronger when natural areas in Fayette County had the same agricultural-rural zoning as horse farms, because what happened in natural areas would have set precedent and could have occurred next to or on horse farms.

The Urban County Government solved the problem by changing the zoning ordinance to create a separate agricultural-natural zone for natural areas and including ziplines as a conditional use only in the new zone.

The zone change to agricultural-natural for the Boone Creek zipline area then received unanimous approval in the Planning Commission with the support of the surrounding neighborhoods. Boone Creek is a natural area. The problem is the approval of the illegally installed zipline as a conditional use.

Fayette County’s Rural Land Management Plan cites the Boone Creek area as one of the five most significant natural areas in the entire county and calls for it to receive the highest level of protection.

Development would be very limited passive recreation including hiking, fishing and canoeing, and the plan suggests that the area ought to be eligible for a natural area purchase of development rights program to prohibit development. Many of the surrounding property owners have donated land to the Purchase of Development Rights Program to prohibit development on their land.

The zipline is not passive recreation. The development proposes up to 250 visitors per day, buses and bus parking, a farm store, farm tours, educational classes, ziplines, sky bridges, a rappel station, ladders and platforms.

The proposal is not consistent with surrounding residences and property, is out of context with the surrounding area and is obtrusive. It also sets zoning precedent for all of the natural areas in Fayette County outside of public ownership.

Fundamentally, we either care about the environment, about what gets built next to people who live in Fayette County, and about the Rural Land Management Plan or we do not care. Caring about natural areas and where people live is caring about place, and that is important.

One of the arguments for the zipis that it promotes “eco-tourism.” That sounds really positive, but the reality of why people visit ziplines is reflected in advertising such as, “If you’re an adrenaline junkie ... you have to check out the great zipline tours available in the region,” or “Few experiences beat the rush you get as you’re soaring through the air.” One of my favorite expressions is, “Satisfy that need for speed.”

It doesn’t have a lot to do with the environment. An alternative argument is that the zipline is economic development. The difficulty with that is that most zipline jobs are poorly compensated and are in the service sector.

Everyone is looking for high-paying, knowledge-based jobs, and some think that having a zipline will help accomplish that goal by attracting businesses. That underestimates the kind of people who work in knowledge-based jobs and what they look for in a place to live, work and play. Zipline venues are day-trip ventures rather than a place that would create synergy with other tourist attractions.

The natural area zoning is correct. However, the zipline development in this particular natural area is inappropriate because it does not fit with the context of the area, harms surrounding properties and violates the Rural Land Management Plan.

The two valid neighborhood associations and the nearby property owners who have worked for decades to protect the Boone Creek area and who know it best are in opposition, and we need to listen to them.

Walt Gaffield is president of the Fayette County Neighborhood Council. Reach him at w.gaffield@gmail.com.