Slow road to history

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The River View Trail, dedicated over the weekend at the Ward Oates Amphitheatre in North Frankfort, is the antithesis of the typical transportation project opened with a splashy ribbon-cutting. Major roads that win politicians’ favor and often end up bearing their names usually enable drivers to travel farther faster, bypassing the quirky slow lanes of backroads America.

This new $400,000, 1.5-mile path for bicyclists and pedestrians won’t get you anywhere fast. That’s its beauty. The River View Trail invites travelers on foot or two unmotorized wheels to see some of Frankfort’s most historic territory at the pace of the pioneers, minus the buffalo herds and Indian attacks.

Not coincidentally, it also makes life safer for bike riders who’ve taken their lives in their hands to ride on nearby Wilkinson Boulevard. Nathan Brown, a Walk/Bike Frankfort member who suffered serious injuries a year ago when hit by a car while riding his bike along the busy North Frankfort thoroughfare, spoke at the Saturday’s dedication. He said he’d have died without his helmet and added that the accident would never have occurred if the trail had existed at the time.

Ironically, the car-bicycle collision happened near one of the many “Share the Road” signs posted around town, reminding motorists to watch out for two-wheelers. It’s not a very effective tactic; bicyclists almost invariably get the worst of things in collisions.

Safety aside, trails separate from motor traffic are simply a better way to view natural and historic features. The city has long touted its walking tour of North Frankfort, with the Orlando Brown House and Liberty Hall among the prominent sights. You can drive through the district, but you’ll learn more from the sidewalk and even more under tutelage of a knowledgeable guide like Russ Hatter, who used to don colonial garb to portray Gen. James Wilkinson, Frankfort’s founder.

From the beautifully restored architecture of the city’s “Corner in Celebrities,” walkers and bike riders now have a convenient point of departure for an even more historic part of this community, albeit one that’s less meticulously preserved. Crossing under the old railroad bridge, they’ll enter River View Park alongside the Kentucky River at the North Frankfort floodwall. (One thing we’d like to see added there is a historical marker or perhaps a mini-exhibit telling the story of Craw, the riverfront community that was cleared by urban renewal in the 1960s to make way for the Capital Plaza complex.)

On down the path is the site of Leestown, a pioneer settlement that predated Frankfort. Little remains of the original but Buffalo Trace distillery now stands on the ground where Leestown distillers practiced their trade in the early days. Leestown evolved into a shipping port for whiskey and tobacco as well as hemp, a cannabis variety used to manufacture supplies for U.S. troops in World War II before it finally faded from legal commerce and got confused with marijuana.

Plans are to extend the trail to Cove Spring Park off U.S. 127, then between Holmes and East Main streets, along an old railroad bed, to complete the loop downtown.

This quintessential road less taken gives locals and visitors an opportunity to view Frankfort from vantage points many natives never encounter. It’s a welcome addition.

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