The Frankfort City Commission missed an opportunity Monday night to blend historic preservation with modern-day fun and recreation — a balancing act community leaders best get good at if Frankfort is to remain an economically viable community that attracts young families.
Instead, a majority of the commission perpetuated the popular myth among some of Frankfort’s old guard that one worthy objective threatens the other — in this case, that bicycles in Leslie Morris Park would inevitably disturb hallowed Civil War grounds.
At Civil War sites all over this country, preservation and recreation peacefully coexist to the benefit of the host community. A little time and effort would have revealed similar solutions to Frankfort, had the commission sought them out.
Just one possible “win-win” would have been to let the Boy Scouts — whose months of painstaking work to clear bike trails in the park was voided by the commission with one stroke of the pen — apply a little elbow grease to a Fort Hill site that has been shamefully neglected by the city in recent decades. The bike trails could have proceeded while the historical site was enhanced for the benefit of locals and tourists alike. What a great civics lesson and exercise in community service that would have been for the Scouts and others who joined them.
Instead, elected officials and history buffs who were outraged by the prospect of mountain bikes in the park presumably will match the Scouts’ work ethic and organize their own volunteer workdays to fix the mess that exists now on Fort Hill. Commissioner Katrisha Waldridge, a proponent of the bike trails, astutely observed Monday night that time will tell just how precious Fort Hill is to her commission colleagues and other trail opponents. The truth is that recent and current neglect by the city is much more harmful to the site than would have been the cyclists riding on trails far below the fort.
Historic preservation, when taken to the extreme, creates ghost towns, where eccentric tourists stop to wander around for a few hours on their way to other places. Successful communities, on the other hand, reject the false choice between preservation and fun. They understand that history doesn’t have to be dull and stodgy. In fact, history can come alive if made enjoyable for those experiencing it.
Whether it’s murals or bike trails — or some community controversy yet to surface — community leadership must reject calls for preservation at the expense of progress. Both objectives can be achieved to Frankfort’s great benefit.