The Ashland Board of City Commissioners on Thursday voted to move ahead with the development of walking trails on land along Ashland Avenue donated to the city in 1978.

In so doing, the commission followed the recommendation of City Manager Ben Bitter, who presented the board with a summary of a study of the proposed project conducted by city staff.

Bitter told the board the study took into account the “concerns, complaints and hopes” that had been expressed about the project at a public meeting in January and prior to that.

The project involves developing trails on 45 acres of land on both sides of Ashland Avenue. The property was donated to the city 36 years ago by Charles and Betty Russell with the stipulation it be maintained in as natural a condition as possible and it be developed into a park with hiking trails. While the land has remained undeveloped, at some point, the city commission christened the property Charles and Betty Russell Park.

Mayor Chuck Charles has said he believes the site can be developed at minimal cost using the combined manpower of the local service clubs, along with the local National Guard, and school, Scouting and church groups.

Charles also noted the project would allow Ashland to seek official designation as a “Kentucky Trail Town,” which could help to generate tourism. The initiative also dovetails with one of the mayor’s overall goals, which is to promote active lifestyles as a means of improving the overall health of the community.

Bitter said he recommended the city move forward with a “phased approach” to the development of the land. The initial steps, he said, would include creating a few parking spaces along Ashland Avenue, as well as entrances there and on Hilton Avenue.

“We should be able to get some trails in there this year,” he said.

Bitter also mentioned the possibility of constructing some stairs, similar to those at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park. That, he said, would be the only cost involved in developing the trail system.

“We don’t want it to look shabby,” he said. “We want to have something the city can be proud of.”

Bitter also said the city should look to develop the hiking trails along existing nature and wildlife trails.

Also, Bitter said city officials should take another look at the project after the trails have been in use for a year or so “to look at what needs to be done from there.” 

Usage is one factor that should definitely be taken into consideration at that time, he said. If large numbers of people are using the trails, the city might want to consider adding more, he said.

Regarding the maintenance of the trails, Bitter said he was hopeful the “community partners” in the project would be willing to take on that responsibility through an “adopt a trail” arrangement.

If that doesn’t pan out, the city obviously will have to look to other means of keeping the trails maintained, and that could factor into the decision on whether to expand the system, he said.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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