Ky. voices: Lexington should celebrate ties that bind mountains to Bluegrass

Appalachian Kentucky's greatest contribution to the commonwealth is not from its wealth of natural resources — coal, timber, gas and water — but by its people.

Eastern Kentucky has substantially aided the economic and community growth of Lexington. The Bluegrass region has been a fortunate beneficiary of the creative talent produced in the hills and should take steps to show its appreciation.

The sheer numbers of transplanted Eastern Kentuckians reaching back to now four generations has significantly enhanced the economic growth and expanded the Bluegrass housing market. Successful Eastern Kentuckians have added considerable wealth to the Lexington area through home purchases, the creation and expansion of businesses, spending power and philanthropy.

The quality of the creative talent brought to the region has greatly contributed to its economic viability. For instance, at least two of the major banks in the Bluegrass have presidents from Eastern Kentucky. Many successful graduates from mountain-based higher education institutions run businesses and employ people in Lexington.

The cultural contributions of the Appalachian region are well documented. Mountain visual artists' work adorns the walls, writers fill the bookshelves, and musicians occupy the airwaves.

Eastern Kentucky governors Bert T. Combs and Paul Patton elevated education levels and aided the growth of higher education including the University of Kentucky, a critical educational, intellectual and economic engine in the region and the state.

Ironically, the challenges we face in the East have led to millions of dollars in grants to UK to study ways to use coal in cleaner and more efficient ways, poverty and health issues.

As a result of the mountain-Bluegrass connection, Eastern Kentuckians use the medical facilities, eateries and shopping venues to drive the Central Kentucky economy as a thriving commercial center.

It is laudable that Bluegrass Tomorrow has recognized the importance of partnerships and collaboration pulling the communities together in Central Kentucky and unveiled a new vision statement, "We connect the region." I hope it will embrace a broader vision and think not just about connecting north and south, but central to the east. Likewise, as discussions continue on forging important and necessary alliances between Lexington and Louisville, further strengthening the Golden Triangle, the east should be included.

The city of Lexington and the larger Bluegrass region can take steps to recognize the people of the mountains' contributions to the quality of life in Central Kentucky.

Fayette municipal officials and those with the Greater Lexington Chamber of Commerce should team up to form a task force which includes mountain residents to strengthen the mountain connection while demonstrating its appreciation for the contributions from the mountains. Some of the strategies to consider include:

■ Commerce Lexington, working with chambers of commerce in the east

■ A designated week or period of time showcasing the mountain region, showing appreciation for its contributions, promoting its cultural contributions (festival, parade, arts shows, etc.)

Part of the showcasing can involve best practices in the mountains that can be replicated elsewhere.

■ Gallery hop highlighting mountain art

■ Kentucky Theatre as a venue to showcase East Kentucky filmmakers or issues in the mountains

■ Music from the mountains as part of Thursday Night Live, etc.

■ Lecture series produced by Mountain Club, Appalachian Center at UK

■ Drama produced locally or from mountain groups

■ Appreciation dinner recognizing mountain leaders, creative talent

■ Appropriate sculpture, monument

■ Bluegrass officials participating in Eastern Kentucky events (festivals, etc.) and encouraging their constituents to visit the region and its state's parks

■ Bluegrass corporations sponsoring worthy Eastern Kentucky events, causes

As this holiday season draws to a close, Central Kentucky should be thankful for the many gifts it has been given from Eastern Kentucky. The people of the mountains are not distant neighbors or visitors to the Bluegrass. Mountain people and their contributions are a part of the Bluegrass legacy. The Bluegrass should explore means to recognize and strengthen these connections.