Out of doors actions abound in Central Kentucky

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By Russ Brown

A popular annual event in Lexington is the Bluegrass 10,000 and Fun Run. The 2021 race offered both personal and virtual races. LFUCG photo

(CENTRAL KY. MARKET OVERVIEW) – After a year of cancellations and adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, sports and recreational activities in Central Kentucky will be “semi-normal” again in 2021, meaning there is no shortage of opportunities for both outdoors and indoors Enthusiasts in the area.

Exciting announcement for sports fans came in October when the United Soccer League announced it was adding Lexington Professional Soccer as an expansion club to USL League One. Game operations are scheduled to begin in the 2023 season. The club’s inaugural season will begin at a local college facility, but Lexington Pro Soccer is hoping to build a downtown stadium.

The team’s majority owner is Tower Hill Sports, founded by Bill Shively.

“Since the inception of League One, Lexington has been a place we wanted to be because of its acclaimed sports history and growing appetite for football,” said USL President Jake Edwards.

Lexington Pro Soccer plans to respond to a request for a quote for the High Street Development Project with the intention of building a state-of-the-art, soccer-specific stadium on the site. The venue would be able to host festivals, concerts, and other events.

The return of personal events

The annual Bluegrass State Games were canceled for the first time in 2020 but returned in 2021. Kyle Childers, Lexington-based Bluegrass Sports Commission director of marketing, called the event “a great success”.

Typically, the Games would attract 15,000 participants in over 30 sports, with an estimated economic impact of $ 6 million. The biggest events this year were high school soccer (170 teams) and high school volleyball (110 teams). Pickleball grew the fastest, from 115 participants in 2019 to 310 in 2021.

“While we didn’t have enough lead time to bring the typical 30-40 sports for July to market, the sports we hosted saw participation at or above 2019 levels,” Childers said.

At a Midsummer Night’s Run, over 2,300 participants took part in the 5K race, which was about 75% of the participants in 2019, and 150 kids ran the Fastest Kid in Town race.

“While things are not entirely normal, there is certainly an appetite to get back to personal competitions,” said Childers. “Hopefully things will improve for the summer of 2022 so that we can have a full calendar of events.”

The Bluegrass State Games are a not for profit program that is privately sponsored to promote amateur athletics across the Commonwealth. It is the signature event of the Bluegrass Sports Commission that provides Kentuckers of all ages and skill levels a path for positive development through sport and physical activity, promoting and developing amateur athletics, and allowing amateur athletes to showcase their talent and gain national recognition.

The commission released an economic impact study this summer showing that a proposed 130-acre youth sports complex could raise up to $ 24 million a year for Fayette County. The commission announced it would launch a capital campaign to build the $ 25 million complex, which would host tournaments in baseball, softball, soccer, and other youth sports. The Commission has committed to a seven-digit private fundraising campaign to pay for part of the cost of the project and will ask the City of Lexington for $ 18 million.

Another project that will significantly affect recovery in the Lexington area is the ongoing construction of Town Branch Commons, a public-private park and path system that runs historic Town Branch Creek through downtown Lexington.

Work on Newtown Pike is complete and continues on Vine Street and Midland Avenue. After completion at the end of 2022, the designated cycle and pedestrian paths will be connected through the heart of the city center with the Legacy Trail and the Town Branch Trail. This creates a 5.5 mile loop on the north side of downtown, providing access to the growing nationwide walkway system.

A new playground in Charles Young Park includes Lexington’s first lawn slide and a spherical spinning climber. Today it is one of the largest playgrounds in the city.

Fundraising for Town Branch Park, the signature park of the Town Branch Commons Project, which will transform more than 9 acres of parking space in the Manchester Street car park behind the Rupp Arena into an inclusive, dynamic and fun green space, is almost complete.
Town Branch was Lexington’s first source of water. The system will include continuous cycling and hiking trails and a green ribbon through the city center, connecting new and existing parks, and improving water quality. The trail is funded through a variety of federal and state grants that use locally raised dollars.

Mayor Linda Gorton said the city is working to reopen the Legacy Trail, Lexington’s longest mixed-use trail and its most popular, as soon as possible.

Work on the entry and exit of the new Amazon Last Mile delivery station in 1180 Newtown Pike closed part of the trail in mid-July. Then the utilities closed the path to end their connections to the new facility and in anticipation of future work on Newtown Pike.
“We realize that this is inconvenient. Paths, like roads, are affected by the construction and infrastructure maintenance that is taking place near or under them, ”said Nancy Albright, Commissioner for Quality of the Environment and Public Works.

To ensure driver safety, a section of the trail will be relocated to where it crosses the Amazon property. The new segment will be further from the road. A culvert will be installed to allow trail users to pass under one of Amazon’s new driveways to protect drivers and pedestrians from Amazon traffic. The developer of the Amazon system finances the trail work on his campus.

The trail will be closed again this winter to allow the city’s water quality department to complete work on the sewer system.

In another development, the city received a grant to build Splash !, a permanent water feature, in Charles Young Park. Lexington was awarded a Building Better Communities Scholarship of $ 250,000 from the American Water Charitable Foundation.

Lexington Parks and Recreation celebrated the return of popular city traditions after the pandemic cancellations and also added new programs, said Amber Luallen, superintendent of cultural arts and events.

Most programs resumed in March and remained at reduced capacity with registration, social distancing and masking requirements until those restrictions were lifted in June. Ballet Under the Stars and the Woodland Art Fair returned in the summer. In addition, there were new learning opportunities for artworks at the Carver School, and riding and fitness courses are again part of the therapeutic recovery programs.

In the natural areas, McConnell Springs and Raven Run community centers and camps have extended their hours. Lexington also hosted the fourth annual Nature Hop this fall, a series of events focused on connecting people to green spaces across Fayette County.

Raven Run is a unique 734 acre reserve just outside Lexington. The park borders the Kentucky River and is a great place for hiking and wildlife viewing. Seven trails ranging from one-third to four miles in length lead through meadows, forests and streams that are characteristic of the inner bluegrass.

McConnell Springs Park is a 26-acre “natural pocket” in an industrial area with two major springs. The National Registered Historic Place was once the site of a gunpowder factory, distillery, and dairy farm. Another outdoor area near Lexington is Hisle Farm Park, which has equestrian and hiking trails.

One unique area is the Boone Creek Limestone Gorge ecosystem off I-75 between Lexington and Richmond, where Boone Creek Outdoors conducts canopy tours over old hardwood. The tours consist of six ziplines, three skybridges, floating stairs, a rappel, and more.

Central Kentucky is home to an active cycling community. Frankfurt’s Capitol View Park has a network of around 11 km of mountain bike trails that were built by local volunteers from 1997 onwards. The Bluegrass Cycling Club organizes group outings from March to October each year and also hosts the annual Horsey Hundred bike tour.

All areas of Kentucky are fortunate to have access to numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, the crown jewel of which is a large and diverse collection of 45 state parks that offer a wide range of activities including golf, fishing, camping, swimming, boating, hiking and cycling.

Those who prefer to be an observer alongside or instead of an active participant are also spoiled for choice. These include Keeneland, the Lexington Legends minor league baseball team, and University of Kentucky basketball and football back to full capacity.

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