By LISA BICKNELL
Last Wednesday night, members of five Trail Town committees met to discuss and plan the next steps toward Irvine/Ravenna becoming certified Kentucky Trail Towns.
A lot of planning and paperwork go into completing the application packet.
Joy Brown, chair of Morehead Trail Town’s task force, said Morehead worked for two and a half years to become a trail town, resubmitting their application a total of seven times.
When Morehead finally became certified a year ago this past July, crowds didn’t exactly throng to the area right away.
But Brown said the work of becoming a trail town is definitely worth the effort. After a few months, the number of hikers and bikers in the area became noticeably greater. Morehead is seeing a boost in tourism.
Hopefully it won’t take Irvine/Ravenna as long to become certified. We are definitely smaller than Morehead, but that doesn’t necessarily matter.
Livingston is a trail town, with a population of 400 or so. Olive Hill is a trail town and is a smaller city than Irvine.
What exactly is a trail town, you might ask, and why do we need to become one?
The goal of the Kentucky Trail Town program is to connect communities with their surrounding natural resources via hiking and biking paths, scenic driving loops and paddle trails on rivers and creeks. The ultimate goal is to create a vibrant tourism economy and a healthier place to live.
Trail town committees come up with a plan to highlight what makes their area unique. Committees map trails, mark them with signs, and make sure supplies are available for visitors. They also educate, publicize and create fundraisers. By the way, volunteers are welcome to join committees.
Once the Kentucky Department of Tourism is satisfied that our plan is well thought out and do-able, they will certify us as an official Trail Town, and then they help provide special marketing and branding.
We’ll be put on the map, so to speak, as we are featured on websites, visitor guides, social media sites, state highway maps, and other promotions. We become connected to a larger network of trail towns.
With renewed community pride, we throw out the welcome mat. We provide goods and services to those who come to visit, along with entertainment, souvenirs such as local arts and crafts, and local food.
For that reason, it’s important for us to make our streets, sidewalks, businesses, highways and neighborhoods as clean and welcoming as possible.
We already know that people will come if we offer them a reason. Consider the Mountain Mushroom Festival… Revive River Drive…the Red Lick Valley bluegrass festivals…Irvine’s frequent cruise-ins, or the Hollerwood ride just a couple of weeks ago.
Now, I’m sure there are those who want to bemoan the fact that we have empty storefronts and a drug problem. Of course we do, but if we don’t create a vision of something better, we’ll continue to experience decline.
I believe we do have something special to offer here. We live in one of the prettiest places in the world. There’s hardly a ridge or valley in the county that doesn’t offer interesting areas to explore.
We have a rich culture and history and a great little historical society and museum.
We have a few one-of-a-kind eateries and more are opening soon. We have lots of antique and junk shops, another asset, considering the popularity of American Pickers, Junk Gypsies and other “junking” personalities.
We just have to believe in what we have to offer and market ourselves.
The thing I’m enjoying most as a member of the public relations and education committee is imagining the possibilities. But we have to focus on a few for now. The easiest one to develop, simply because it is closest to town, is the Kentucky River Water Trail. Estill County has one of the longest stretches of river shoreline in the state. We already have one park being developed by the river, and plans are in the works for another. Parks allow for people to enjoy the river who don’t necessarily want to get on the water.
We already have a beautiful barn quilt trail which could be more widely promoted as a scenic driving tour with brochures in service stations and restaurants.
Ditto for one-of-a-kind places to eat like the Twin, the Burger Barn and the Wigwam.
Most people don’t come to towns like ours to find another Golden Corral or Dairy Queen. They want to see something quaint and unique.
We have at least three big chunks of National Forest scattered around the county. That’s public land, and we are permitted to explore it.
Chestnut Stand, for example is very accessible from town, and there’s plenty of rough roads and places to hike.
The Lily Mountain Nature Preserve has recently gained more property and will soon be open to the public. With some publicity, the preserve will draw visitors to walk to lookouts where you can literally see where the bluegrass kisses the mountains.
Hollerwood, the 2,500 park in four counties including Estill, is about to open to the public and will feature multi-use trails for off-road vehicles, four-wheel drives, dirt bikes, etc. The Hollerwood sponsorship ride recently drew more than 200 people and raised $10,000 for operating costs for the park.
Plans are in the works to create a connector trail between Cottage and Fitchburg furnaces. Visitors can walk the trail and learn about the iron furnaces that spawned a boom town then went bust.
As I said before, possibilities are plentiful. We just have to recognize them as reasons folks might like to visit, roll up our sleeves and get ready to make that happen.