The Frankfort City Commission meeting on May 20 and the June 10 work session really defined the generational chasm we have in Frankfort.

The commission, to its credit, listened to hours of citizen comments on both sides of the Leslie Morris Park/Fort Hill multiuse trail issue. A review of the extensive hearing provides an opportunity to create criteria for upcoming decisions on how our community will progress.

A constant premise in the hearings were those in opposition to the trail seldom mentioning the 120-acre Leslie Morris Park, always referring to the city property as “Fort Hill." In their comments, supporters consistently identified the property as Leslie Morris Park with the reference to Fort Hill as the 8-10-acre fortifications and adjoining encampment area. It is one example of how facts are skewed in these discussions to support a viewpoint.

The motion by Commissioner John Sower sealed the park’s fate by stating, “to reaffirm Fort Hill as an historic site in its entirety … where bicycles are prohibited … for walking, hiking, and pet use only.” The motion carried with Sower, Scott Tippett and Mayor Bill May supporting the motion. Eric Whisman and Katrisha Waldridge voted in opposition to the motion. So, any nearby resident to Leslie Morris Park should keep an eye on their children’s bicycles until the details of this motion are clearly defined.

The most egregious play with the facts goes to Tippett while listening to Gerry S. James, founder of Explore Kentucky Initiative, an organization dedicated to opportunities for outdoor recreation. James mentioned several national historical areas with multiuse trails that include pedaling on mountain bikes, which is any bike with wide tires and possibly front shock absorbers.

James mentioned the Petersburg Battlefield Park in Virginia, which sent Commissioner Tippett spinning into emotive overdrive, stating, “You say there are mountain bike paths on the Petersburg Battlefield proper … have you been there?” James replied that he had not been to Petersburg, but the websites supported his comment.

Tippett then smugly informed James, “I have been there many times and can’t recall there are mountain bike trails. He then asked, “Are they near the Crater (the site of the large explosion under Confederate defenses)?” Tippett reminded everyone he served as teacher, educator and coach with a deep appreciation and command of United States history. He then rudely dismissed James, “I wish you the best, sir.” James returned to his seat.

Tippett's exchange with James is wrong in so many ways. Yes, Commissioner, multiuse unimproved (not paved) trails are all over Petersburg National Battlefield and, yes, you can ride a bike to the Crater on those trails. You can also pedal a bike along the paved road to any public site within the battlefield.

I have been to Fort Lee, Virginia, many times during my Army Reserve career. Fort Lee, the logistics university for the military, borders the Petersburg National Battlefield and has a designated entrance to the battlefield from Mahone Drive. I have walked and biked all over Petersburg National Battlefield like thousands of others and the park remains intact and unspoiled. The trails have a successful relationship with the historic sites. Commissioner, how could you miss it? A brochure of the Petersburg National Battlefield showing the multi-use trail system is provided to The State-Journal with this letter.  

Whatever the eventual outcome of this public discussion, it is clear the future of Frankfort should look to enterprising leaders like James. As Whisman said, Frankfort is “on the cusp” for development. We have opportunities coming up where the decisions to define our community surpass the Leslie Morris Park trail fiasco.

Fortunately, the Boy Scout working his Eagle Scout project as an ancillary task to constructing the trail at Leslie Morris Park was able to complete the requirement. I sure hope the board can defer decisions about Eagle Scout projects to the administrative staff and address issues like how downtown Frankfort will evolve over the next decade.

My immediate regret is that Tippett chooses not to share in the experience of biking on a Rails to Trails project that so many enjoy across our country. He has no idea of the delight to ride on the 18-mile-long Monon Trail passing through the Broad Ripple borough of Indianapolis, Indiana, with its eclectic collection of shops, bistros and community activities. You can feel the positive energy as you move through this scene of walkers, joggers and strollers on the Monon Trail in Broad Ripple.

Others include the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage trail, a 332-mile trail system for wide tire bikes, connecting Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh. The trail passes through Harpers Ferry and a multitude of the most coveted historic sites in our country. A bit closer to home is the 111-mile-long Little Miami River trail passing through very charming historic tourist towns like Loveland and Yellow Springs, Ohio.

People want to live, work and raise their families along these places. Yes, they do, and people should want to live, work and raise their families in Frankfort. We have to decide what we want to be and how to get there.

Mark Ritter is a retired lieutenant colonel with 34 years of service in the Army Reserve and retired after 27 years with the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. He enjoys riding a mountain bicycle and a road bicycle. His email address is Mark.Ritter12@yahoo.com.

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