River trail initiative takes off

Amelia Holliday Staff Reporter

September 17, 2013

HAZARD—A movement to make Hazard and the surrounding area a more appealing place to both current and prospective residents and businesses alike has been sweeping through the area, taking up most of the available after-hours appointment times for local leaders with meetings on the topic. Earlier this month another meeting was held for what could be a new piece of the puzzle for those trying to re-envision the area.

Representatives with the Kentucky Adventure Tourism and the Kentucky River Keepers recently met with representatives from Perry County tourism, city and county leaders, and the conservation district at the old Perry County Courthouse. The discussion centered on the possibility of making the North Fork of the Kentucky River, running from Whitesburg through Hazard and on to Beattyville, into a water trail, subsequently making Hazard a trail town.

“It dovetails with all of our missions,” said Jenny Williams, chair of the Perry County Pathfinders. “I’m hoping that we can build a consortium and a coalition of people that can really work toward this.”

Elaine Wilson, with adventure tourism, said her office has been working on a Kentucky Trail Towns Project in order to help struggling communities and cities reach out to people outside the area using the resources nature has already handed them.

“Paddling is something I’ve done all across Kentucky all my life. But I go, a lot of times, out of state to go paddling … because they had destinations that I could go to that the people understood why I was there. They knew why I was coming,” Wilson said.

Wilson added that for this to happen in Hazard, the whole community and every organization in the community would have to work toward reaching a common goal.

“You have to keep everybody else up, to keep everybody else pumped, to work towards it,” she said. “It’s a way of life.”

Williams also said the community would need to not just think of this as something to benefit Hazard alone, but as something that would benefit all the surrounding counties as well.

“We have to think of this regionally,” Williams said.

Wilson said though this was just a preliminary meeting to see if the interest was even there in the community organizations and leaders that there were some issues that would need to be considered now so that they may be prepared for in the future.

“This is one of the tough parts of this program. You have a lot of land owners that may not want people on their property, and you have a lot of people that just might not want you crossing their property,” she said. “You’ve got to sell the program from the stand point that they can benefit in the long run.”

Wilson said one of the biggest and most obvious advantages of becoming part of the program was the publicity and notice the city would get from attracting tourists wanting to use the river trail, leading to money flowing through Hazard from those tourists. Another advantage, she added, would possibly being able to have the river cleaned up more easily thanks to the added attention.

“We want people coming into our community,” Wilson said. “If you care about your community as your home and our county judge and your mayor as your momma, you know, they’re going to tell you, hey, we’ve got company coming, let’s clean up.”

Wilson reiterated that without community involvement and commitment any plans to become a part of the project would sink.

“We need to plant the seed in our youth that you have the opportunity to come back and share in this vision and help provide people with great things to come and do,” she said. “If you don’t get the community committed … then it will not work.”