Lexington buys 30 acres on Kentucky River to create first public access for paddlers

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LFUCG

Lexington will purchase 30 acres along the Kentucky River to create the first public water access in Fayette County on the river.

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton announced the purchase during a Thursday press conference. It’s been nearly four years in the making.

“I have been working on this project since my first day in the mayor’s office and I am thrilled that it’s finally happening,” Gorton, elected in 2018, said.

The city will pay $1.16 million for the property, which is owned by John Kelley. The money comes from a park acquisition fund that developers pay fees into to help acquire park land. That fund has slightly more than $4 million in it.

The area — off of Old Richmond Road near the Interstate 75 bridge — will allow canoers, kayakers and paddle boarders access to 12 miles of the Kentucky River. In addition, the city plans to add hiking trails to the wooded area.

The city does not plan on allowing motorized watercraft to launch from the site.

Raven Run, the city’s nature sanctuary, is on the Kentucky River but has no direct access to the water.

Mary Quinn Ramer, president of VisitLex, the city’s tourism and convention bureau, said the new park will allow Lexington to market regional adventure tourism. Recreation tourism boomed during the coronavirus pandemic and interest in outdoor recreation continues to grow.

“VisitLex believes the Kentucky River will become a major driver in recreational opportunities for residents and visitors alike,” Ramer said.

Boone Creek Outdoors, which has zip lines and other adventure activities, is nearby the land.

The city does not yet have an opening date for the property, Gorton said. The city just finished negotiations for the property on Friday. The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council still must approve the sale of the land.

Gorton said the city still needs to make some improvements to the property, including installing fencing, signage and improving the ramp access to the river.

Councilwoman Kathy Plomin, whose district includes the Kentucky River property, said the council is expected to bring forward a resolution approving the sale at Thursday’s meeting.

“My husband and I have a kayak and can’t wait for our inaugural voyage,” Plomin said. Plomin said Lexington is one of the largest cities in the country that has limited access to water.

Thursday’s press conference came on the heels of Tuesday’s announcement of the hiring of a design firm for Cardinal Run North, a new 137-acre park off of Versailles Road and New Circle Road. Construction should start in 2023 and the park should be open in 2024. The city is using $10 million from the $121 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to build the new park on land the city has owned since 1997.

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