Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 28, 2014

After 36 years ....

City is on trail of developing a park for those who hike

The Independent

ASHLAND — Thirty-six years after Charles and Betty Russell donated land near Central Park to “establish a natural trail or trails ... for the use of and benefit of the citizens in Ashland and general public,” the city is inching closer and closer to fulfilling the vision of the couple.

For that, you can thank Mayor Chuck Charles who learned about the donation of the undeveloped property on both sides of Ashland Avenue soon after becoming mayor a year ago and decided it was past time to begin fulfilling the promise the city made to the Russells by accepting ownership of the land.

However, it likely will take the cooperation of local civic clubs, and maybe even the volunteer labor of their members, to make the park a reality.

As we see it, the development of a good, safe urban trail beginning at Central Park will be an asset for the city and may introduce more people to the many benefits of hiking. The potential of the project is tremendous but realizing that potential will not be easy.

Charles has appointed a committee to oversee the trail project. The committee recently had a Saturday session in the city building in which residents were invited to look a preliminary plans for the park, make suggestions and express their opinions about the project. The results of that session were encouraging.

To be sure, not everyone is enthusiastic about the project. At the Saturday session, Sam Harvey voiced concerns about possible land-erosion problems from tree removal, as well as the possibility for increased litter and fire hazards from people smoking on the trails. Others have expressed concerns that the trails would be a haven for drug dealers and increase crime in the neighborhood.

In response to Harvey’s concerns, Mayor Charles said he does not anticipate heavy foot traffic through the trails and the pathways will route around trees so as few as possible are removed.

Suzanne Smith, president of the Lion’s Club, said this project is a rare opportunity for city organizations to come together and work toward a common goal. She said the biggest misperception from the public is the trails have amenities like water fountains, bathrooms, resting areas, or other features, but really they are being constructed so walkers have to be “self-sustaining.”

In short, the park will be hiking trails and little else except for possibly a place for hikers to rest and deposit their trash. Once constructed, the trails will be low maintenance.

Already the home for many deer and other smaller wildlife, the land on both sides of Ashland Avenue, particular the hilltop area between Ashland Avenue and Forrest Avenue, is an excellent location for nature trails. The trails are not being planned as a tourist attraction. As with most urban trails in other cities, they will mainly be used by local residents seeking to get away from city life and get a little exercise while enjoying the natural beauty of the area.

At the Saturday session, Marshall Steen read a letter penned by Tom Wuerdeman, who was personally close to Charles and Betty Russell, which contained a correspondence between Russell and The Independent when the land was first handed to the city in 1978. In the letter, Wuerdeman expressed what he said Charles Russell and his wife’s intentions were for the land, saying Russell wanted the property to act as a “green belt to absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen” to the city and for it to remain in its “present, pristine condition.”

That letter should be the basis for developing the trails. When they donated the land, the Russells could not have imagined that 36 years later the trails would be no closer to being blazed than they were in 1978. In fact, Mayor Charles said the deed donating the property to the city specifically says the trails should be developed as soon as “practical.”

If it is  not “practical” now, it never will be. The Ashland Board of City Commissioners have an obligation to the couple who donated the land to fulfill their long delayed dream for it. And soon. If it can’t, the city should return the land to their Russell’s heirs.