The CommonHealth of Kentucky

A 13-part KET production aimed at improving the health of all Kentuckians by sharing health and wellness projects from across the state that are succeeding in making their communities healthier.

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a project of KET’s Be Well Kentucky initiative

Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
The CommonHealth of Kentucky is a 2005 KET production. Produced in partnership with the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Rails to Trails

Muhlenberg County

Muhlenberg Rails to Trails
c/o Muhlenberg County Judge Executive, P.O. Box 137, Greenville, KY 42345, (270) 338-2520
Kentucky Rails to Trails Council
P.O. Box 597, Lexington, KY 40588-0597

During the second half of the 20th century, thousands of miles of railroad lines were abandoned across the United States as air transport and the interstate highways siphoned off both freight and passenger traffic. Sometime in the 1960s, outdoors lovers began discovering that these inactive rail corridors made terrific places to walk, run, or bike. They’re graded smooth, relatively straight and flat for miles at a time, bordered by a broad right-of-way, and often quiet and scenic. Eventually a movement dubbed Rails to Trails grew up around the notion of converting these places once used by trains to human use instead.

For The CommonHealth of Kentucky, we visited the state’s longest rail trail to date: a six-mile paved path between Greenville and Central City in Muhlenberg County. Spearheaded by county Judge Executive Rodney Kirtley, the project took some time to get off the ground because of initial opposition from neighboring property owners, who feared that the trail would encourage vandalism. Others questioned whether public money should be spent on a facility that would be used by only a small segment of the population—“the Spandex-type people,” as Kirtley puts it.

Neither fear has been borne out. Vandalism along the trail has not been a problem; in fact, many owners have instead spruced up their property now that hundreds of people a day are passing by. And those hundreds represent a true cross-section of the community. Muhlenberg Countians of all ages, abilities, and physical conditions bike, walk, or jog the trail to train for a sport, access a fishing hole in a restored wetland, or simply get a little exercise and fresh air. Doctors “prescribe” it for their patients. Charities use it for walk-a-thons. And the Get Moving, Start Losing project got 104 four-person teams out on the trail to lose weight while walking the equivalent of the distance across Kentucky—six miles at a time.

Nationally, more than 13,000 miles of abandoned rail lines have been turned into trails, usually through a mix of public and private funding for purchase and conversion. Kentucky lags a little behind in the effort, with only about 21 miles of rail trail as of late 2005. (The state’s total inventory of abandoned rail lines is around 1,200 miles.) But another 200 miles of trails either have been proposed or are in some stage of development.

600 Cooper Drive, Lexington, KY 40502 (859) 258-7000 (800) 432-0951