Proper plan for adventure tourism

Pioneers once flocked to Kentucky, drawn by the natural riches of the place they called the Promised Land, the Garden of Eden, Elysium or, simply, Paradise.

By foot, wagon, canoe and flatboat they came, first a trickle and then a torrent, seeking land, a new beginning and adventure.

People still descend on the Bluegrass, as tourists if not settlers. They come to experience our cultural institutions, sporting events, historic sites and yearly festivals.

But increasingly, they seek adventure in Kentucky's beautiful outdoors — adventure that can encompass an adrenaline rush as well as a subtle feeling of peace in the wilderness.

In Kentucky, you can explore deep, dark caverns; hike along limestone cliffs; roam through forests; paddle scenic and white-foamed rivers; hunt deer, turkey and elk; photograph black bears and birds; fish and play on expansive lakes; and ride horses, ATVs and bicycles on trails.

With tourism in the Bluegrass already a $10 billion industry, we see great potential in further tapping the popularity of what's called adventure tourism. Kentucky can be a leader in this new style of destination travel, which will showcase our vast, diverse and natural beauty while drawing global travelers to explore nature in exciting ways.

That potential is particularly rewarding given these tough economic times and the historic struggle to bring growth to certain areas of the state. Adventure tourism recognizes and touts local assets, but we must be strategic and cautious. In seeking to encourage exploration of Kentucky's beauty, we must not destroy it.

With first lady Jane Beshear and the lieutenant governor leading the way, the Beshear administration is working to create a statewide, multi-use trail system for hikers, bikers, ATVs and horse riders. We hope to do so in time for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

And the administration is working to do it responsibly.

The Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet is taking an inventory of existing trails on public lands, as well as assessing private property with public access to see whether those properties could fit into the trail system. The cabinet is also surveying public lands without trails to assess the best use for them, within the law and in an environmentally sound manner. These lands might become part of the trail system, or they might be better suited for nature conservation.

Some people have misinterpreted our enthusiasm. They hypothesize that we intend unrestrained ATV use in even delicate environments and at the expense of other activities.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Our administration shares concerns about the unauthorized use of ATVs and believes we must strengthen the enforcement of laws protecting sensitive areas.

We now lack resources to do so. As a result, public and private lands have been damaged. In addition, riders have been injured and killed because they don't use ATVs properly.

We are undertaking a study to determine where ATV trespassing is a problem, how we can prevent it and how we can strengthen enforcement.

The trail system will use fees, permits and licensing to control access, increase enforcement and pay to maintain the trail. Enforcing safe ATV use on designated trails away from sensitive areas will help prevent unauthorized riding on protected lands.

Our goal is to expand all outdoor activities — not promote one at the expense of others.

And Kentuckians will have their say. After the inventory of lands is complete, we will reach out so that any adventure-tourism master plan addresses their concerns.

Our adventure tourism efforts will further tie together initiatives in local communities across the state to create the best outdoor opportunities in the world.

For example, Louisville is building a park system that will circle the city. Knott County has built one of only five ATV training facilities in America. Union County is creating a trail system. And Central Kentucky is developing a "Bourbon Trail."

Adventure tourism will improve our health, expand tourist opportunities and make Kentucky more attractive to new companies and workers.

We encourage everyone to get involved.