Ky. voices: Ryan L. Sharp says don't waste opportunity at Boone Creek

Mackenzie Leachman rode on a zip line at Boone Creek Outdoors in March.
Mackenzie Leachman rode on a zip line at Boone Creek Outdoors in March.

By Ryan L. Sharp

When it took root more than 150 years ago, the idea of conservation and preservation was to set aside lands to deter the industrial engine's march forward.

Another, more novel reason for setting aside lands was for recreation and appreciation of nature. Never before had lands been accessible for the common man and woman to recreate, relax and enjoy the splendors of the outdoors.

Of course, this being a country of many views, the ideas of conservation and preservation have always been blurry. Gifford Pinchot, the first leader of the U.S. Forest Service, believed in the "greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time." This included wise use of our country's resources (e.g. timber) and also providing opportunities for people to enjoy the outdoors.

John Muir, who many credit for development of the National Park Service, felt that the outdoors was more of a cathedral, a place to commune with God. Muir also believed that "in every walk with Nature, one receives far more than one seeks."

The ideas of Muir and Pinchot are still with us and guide how we think about natural areas; however, something that neither of these men could foresee is the decline in the amount of time spent outdoors and how little people know about nature, especially our children.

Most likely you have read or heard about how much time our children spend indoors interacting with phones, tablets and computers. We know that the curriculum in schools is becoming more and more crowded with material that is meant to answer questions on a test and focusing less on unstructured outdoor exploration. We know that our children are struggling with health issues because of their lack of physical activity, particularly in the outdoors.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, points out that time outdoors away from modern distractions is "not leisure time, it's an essential investment in our children's health."

So what does this all mean and why am I writing these words? Because we need more opportunities to engage youth in the outdoors, which will in turn create stewards who will protect our special places for generations to come.

One such place that can provide these opportunities is Boone Creek Outdoors, owned by Burgess Carey. His facility and property can provide children (and adults) with opportunities to engage in the natural world in novel and exciting ways. Imagine a child "flying" through the air, getting the perspective of an eagle. Imagine a child walking in the tree canopy getting the point of view of a squirrel. Imagine providing opportunities to see how ecosystems are connected and how complex they are. Boone Creek Outdoors can provide these experiences.

Anyone who has read these pages over the past two years knows that Carey and the city of Lexington have been at odds. In some ways the city may have been too rigid in its interpretation of zoning laws. In turn, Carey could have gone about things differently and tried to find ways to work within the existing frameworks.

Who is more at fault is of little consequence now, and the opportunity still exists to provide Fayette County, Lexington and Kentucky with a world-class, expertly built, environmentally friendly canopy tour that can help children (and adults) become stewards of the land, provide them with physical activity and educate them about their local environment.

As an academic focused on developing the skills and knowledge for Kentucky's nascent outdoor recreation and tourism industry (something recently highlighted by the Shaping Our Appalachian Region conference on Eastern Kentucky), I have brought students multiple times to Boone Creek Outdoors to display an ideal case study in their immediate midst.

It would be a shame to deny them access to this outdoor venue and its unique and extraordinary landscape. One thing that Pinchot and Muir would agree upon, if I may be so bold, is that preserving land and not allowing anyone to see it or to become attached to it would be a true opportunity lost. In the words of the great Dr. Seuss in his tale The Lorax, "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

Ryan L. Sharp, assistant professor in the department of recreation and park administration at Eastern Kentucky University, served on a zoning committee that recommended allowing more recreational land uses in rural Fayette County. Reach him at ryan.sharp@eku.edu.