Licking Greenway years in making

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Cutting the ribbon today were, from left, recreation program coordinator Jess Link and Manager Rosie Santos of the Parks & Recreation Division, City Manager David Johnston, Mayor Joe Meyer, Neighborhood Services Department Director Ken Smith, and recreation seasonal Patrick Moore and administration assistant Abbey King, also from Parks & Rec.

Ceremony officially completes Phases II, III of hiking, biking trails 

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The City of Covington today ceremonially cut a ribbon to close the books and signify the official completion of Phases II and III of the Licking River Greenway & Trails, a regional planning agency’s vision for a 12-mile recreational trail system designed to link four cities. To fully appreciate the occasion, it helps to go back a decade ...)
 
COVINGTON, Ky. -- When volunteer “trail stewards” recruited by the City of Covington descended on the banks of the Licking River in 2010, they were confronted with an intimidating obstacle that had over many decades rooted itself in the landscape: Asian bush honeysuckle.
 
The canopy of invasive shrubs, some of them 15 feet tall with trunks as big as a man’s thigh, had grown so dense that a walk through the woods felt more like crawling and crouching through tunnels.
 
Armed with saws, lopping shears, chemical spray, and persistence, the stewards and other recruited volunteers met on Saturday mornings every few months to remove the bush honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, poison ivy, and other “unwanted” vegetation that had choked out and/or carpeted the landscape.
 
“Sometimes it was 90 degrees and muggy, other times 30 degrees and spitting ice and snow, and sometimes we slogged our way through mud,” remembered Natalie Gardner, who organized and led the effort as the then-director of Covington’s Neighborhoods, Parks & Recreation Department. “It was brutal, but I called them ‘Honeysuckle Warriors,’ and we even gave out framed certificates in appreciation.”
 
Towering shrub by towering shrub, the volunteers cleared the woods and widened an existing path, their steady progress epitomized by a short poem written by one of the stewards:
 
Honeysuckle Haiku
Cut. Yank. Drag. Sweat. Curse.
For hour I toil: One down.
One million to go.
 
A Licking River Greenway & Trails “steward,” left, showed volunteers from Holmes High School how to identify invasive plant species back in the early days of trail clearing.


By autumn 2014, more than 1,100 volunteers had logged almost 3,400 hours of back-breaking labor to remove the bush honeysuckle and other invasive plants, as well as fallen trees, litter, and other debris, Gardner said. Volunteers came from businesses, community organizations, neighborhood groups, high schools, and even the Eagle Scout organization.
 
The City’s Public Works Department paid overtime for crews to chip the mounds of cut brush into mulch, and Northern Kentucky University’s Center for Applied Ecology (now the Center for Environmental Restoration) supplied technical expertise.
 
The Greenway had caught the attention of Covington officials almost from the moment it was proposed by the regional group Vision 2015 in 2005 as part of a 10-year plan for Northern Kentucky that would link recreational opportunities in Covington, Taylor Mill, Newport and Wilder on either side of the Licking River.

The pedestrian bridge over 16thStreet was installed last year.

 
The brush cutting was the first physical manifestation of the trail in Covington after years of behind-the-scenes work at City Hall -- with help from Vision 2015 - spent planning, applying for grants, recruiting help, and casting about for other funds.
 
As sections of the trail were cleared, it prepared the way for actual construction of the LRGT by public works crews from Kenton County during the early stages and later by private contractors.

Bikers ride the upper, paved portion of the trail that runs mostly atop the levee.

 
The official ground-breaking occurred May 5, 2012.
 
There were many milestones along the way: On May 18, 2018, for example, Dudley Construction supplied a critical link to two parts of the Greenway, installing a metal pedestrian bridge to carry the paved path over 16th Street at the cut in the floodwall that leads to the campus of painting contractor Rizzo Brothers Inc.
 
Over the years, funds came from sources too numerous to mention, Gardner said, including private donations, foundations, businesses, and state and federal grants. The City filled a few gaps too.

A whitetail buck cruises the lower trail. (Photo courtesy of Stan Nassano.)

 
About the LRGT
With today’s ribbon-cutting - which technically celebrates the completion of the $582,000 Phases II and III of the LRGT - the off-road section of the Greenway stretches from a trailhead at Eastern Avenue and Levassor Place north to Randolph Park in the City’s Eastside.
 
Most of that stretch includes parallel trails - about 0.75 miles of paved trail atop the levee and about 1.5 miles of a gravel “nature trail” that cuts through a narrow stretch of woods along the river’s edge. Other access points include Clayton Meyer Park at the end of Thomas Street and Austinburg Park at 15th and Eastern.
 
All told, the LRGT is 2.5 miles long, including sidewalk and road infrastructure.

In the winter, the trail exudes an aura of calmness, even as the floodwaters of the Licking River lap at its edges. (Photo courtesy of Stan Nassano.)

 
Varied use
The trails attract thousands of hikers, bikers, and people walking their dogs each year, said Rosie Santos, manager of the City’s Parks & Recreation Division. Parks & Rec has held scavenger hunts and hike-and-learn sessions there, and a running group routinely uses it, she said.
 
The levee sidewalk also provides a route for kids from the Eastside and Austinburg neighborhoods to walk or bike to school at Holmes High and Middle Schools.
 
Volunteers are helping to “replenish” the Greenway with wildflowers and native hardwoods like oaks and hickories. It’s not unusual to see deer, turtles, raccoons and other wildlife.
 
In 2013-14, the City and Vision 2015 worked with ArtWorks to paint 17 murals on concrete gatewells along the floodwall that are part of the stormwater overflow system. The City also gave permission to graffiti artists to decorate the floodwall.

Clayton Meyer Park at the end of Thomas Street provides access to the Greenway

 
Long-range plan
The LRGT is part of a long-range plan to leverage Covington’s natural assets - woods, rivers, and a creek - to create a hub for urban outdoor recreation that involves everything from canoeing to hiking and biking.
 
Covington hopes to connect the LRGT via sidewalk signs to the Riverfront Commons trail being built along the Ohio River, Santos said. That would create an unbroken U-shaped hiking and biking system along the Licking River that loops around the northern edge of the City and heads south to Devou Park.

Ox eye sunflowers line several sections of the lower trail.

 
“Most people think of Covington as an urban place because of its restaurants and bars, but we are fortunate to have an array of outdoors and nature activities even outside of the 700-plus-acre Devou Park,” Santos said. “We have access to two rivers, hiking, biking, fishing, and paddling activities. Not many urban areas have what we have.”

Participants in a Parks & Rec Scavenger Hunt walk past a gatewell mural.

 
At today’s ground-breaking, Mayor Joe Meyer alluded to those opportunities and saluted the years of work on the Greenway, giving credit to the thousands of volunteers from businesses, neighborhoods, and organizations.
 
“This trail system was a long time in the making, and it never would have come to be without the dedication and generosity of a lot of people who gave of their talent, time, energy, and money,” he said.

A blossom from a passion fruit plant seeded by an LRGT volunteer. (Photo courtesy of Stan Nassano.)

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