City commission delays action on mountain bike trail

In a split vote, Frankfort city commissioners Monday put the brakes on a possible halt of construction of a mountain bike trail near the Civil War battle site of Fort Hill. The commission voted 3-2 to remove the item from Monday’s agenda, but commissioners and citizens still had plenty to say about the controversy during […]

After casting the deciding vote that banned bicycles from a public park surrounding a Civil War landmark, Mayor Bill May has directed city staff to look into the possibility of bike paths in every other city-owned park.

The move comes after numerous hours of public discussion regarding the controversial multiuse trail in the woods of Leslie Morris Park — in which sits the Civil War site of Fort Hill — ended with the Frankfort City Commission voting 3-2 to ban all bicycles in the city-owned park.

Numerous citizens spoke on the merits and pitfalls of a trail primarily used for mountain biking in the 128 acres near downtown Frankfort that surround the 12 acres of Fort Hill. May ultimately cast the tiebreaking vote after hearing from both sides, agreeing with Commissioners John Sower and Scott Tippett that mountain bikes could clash with preservation of the historic site.

May said he wanted alternatives for mountain bikers in Frankfort, and he told The State Journal that he recently directed City Manager Keith Parker and Parks Director Shawn Pickens to look into whether every other city-owned park can accommodate mountain bike trails.

"I wasn't aware everyone wanted that," May said. "So I said let's go back and make sure every park has a bike trail. Let's go all in."

May said he is particularly interested in Cove Spring Park because it is accessible from the River View Park Trail that begins at Ward Oates Amphitheatre downtown. It would allow people too young to drive to ride safely from downtown Frankfort to Cove Spring Park.

May said there has been no commitment of funds to create the trails, and any substantial expense would require the commission's approval.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote banning bicycles in Leslie Morris Park, several proponents of the trail expressed frustration with the city's decision. Some said it made the city appear to be against progress, and they hinted at political fallout over the issue.

The board most recently declined an effort by Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge to revisit the Fort Hill debate. She asked for a repeal of the city’s 3-2 decision and said she would like to direct the city manager’s office to bring together an independent economic development team to study the impact the trail would have on the area.

“I feel like the decision was based on politics and a lot of emotion,” Waldridge said. “I believe we could have more discussion about it. I think it would be great for Frankfort and think there is a median for us to have trails and for us to be respectful of our history for Fort Hill.”

However, all of the other commissioners — including a supporter of the trail, Commissioner Eric Whisman — said the issue was not worth revisiting. Waldridge's motion did not receive a second and died without further discussion.

Construction of the trail near Fort Hill began in October.

Troy Hearn, coordinator of the statewide bicycle and pedestrian program for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, spent months on the design and construction of the trail, working with Boy Scouts who used the project to earn their Eagle Scout rank. He constructs similar projects all over the state and received what he said he thought was consent from the city for the project in the form of $3,000 from the Frankfort Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites, $500 from the Bluegrass Chapter of the Kentucky Mountain Bike Association (KyMBA) and $1,200 from Strong Properties, which has the nearby Urban Woods apartments.

It was designed to be at least 300 feet from any environmental, historical and archaeological sites and included new trail development and existing trail improvement.

Dissenting commissioners expressed a concern that mountain bikers might end up using the earthenwork fort, where the historic skirmish between Confederates and a Frankfort militia took place, as an obstacle and possibly damage the site.

In addition, most of the commissioners said they felt blindsided by not being included in early plans for a project near what they consider to be hallowed Civil War ground.

May's proposal would aim to add bike trails to every city park with adequate space, with the exception of Leslie Morris.

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