Monday, November 24, 2014

Old 36-mile rail line becoming trail in Eastern Ky.

Officials in three economically distressed Eastern Kentucky counties want to transform a defunct rail line into a 36-mile biking, hiking and horseback-riding trail to attract adventure tourists and help the economy, Jim Warren writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"We think it could be an essential piece in the overall economic development puzzle," said Magoffin County's David May, vice president of the Friends of the Dawkins Line Rail Trail, a citizens' group advocating the project. "Younger people gravitate to adventure tourism today, so we think the trail will bring in people. Hopefully, corporate heads would look at that and maybe locate companies here."

The first section of the trail, 18 miles from Hager Hill in Johnson County southwest to Royalton in Magoffin County, opened in June 2013. The next section will "take the trail nine miles closer to the Tiptop railroad tunnel on the Magoffin-Breathitt county line," Warren reports. The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is providing most of the funding.

Officials hope to continue the trail through the tunnel and end it at Evanston, a former coal camp in Breathitt County. "It would form Kentucky's longest rail-to-trail project, offering a continuous 36-mile stretch free of vehicular traffic, taking visitors past rural homes and remote areas with beautiful scenery, running through old railroad tunnels and over numerous trestles," Warren writes.

"This fits into the administration's desire to promote healthier lifestyles by encouraging Kentuckians to be more physically active," Matt Sawyers, deputy secretary of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, told Abby Laub, who wrote about it for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. "And these ventures have proven to spur economic development and build stronger communities.

Prestonburg attorney Jo Ann Harvey said she believes the trail is a smart idea. "I think it's a terrific asset for the area," she said. "It's beautiful, and you don't have cars to contend with. You can do a long, hard bike ride or an easy ride; get out on your horse; or just walk for exercise. It's great for kids and families. I can't wait for the whole thing to be completed." (Read more)

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