An effort to bring more visitors to Adair County seems to be bringing a lot more questions instead.
In 2015, Columbia was certified as a Trail Town destination for outdoor enthusiasts by then Tourism, Arts and Heritage Secretary Bob Stewart.
The move was initiated locally by Ellen Zornes of the Columbia-Adair County Chamber of Commerce and Jelaine Harlow, health education coordinator for the Adair County Health Department.
“We started working on it around 2012. Adventure Tourism was mapping trails all the way to Mammoth Cave,” said Harlow. “They reached out to us and, since they had Green County, Taylor County and maybe even Russell County, they wanted to complete the triangle, so they encouraged us to work on becoming a Trail Town.”
The health department was working on a community assessment at the time and realized there was a need for locations where people could get exercise at little or no cost.
“We had a lot of people that were kayaking at the time and going places to paddle, so that’s how the idea started. And it fit our health improvement plan,” Harlow said.
While the project got a good start, it soon stalled. Columbia continues to be promoted on a state “Trail Town” website hosted by the Kentucky Department of Tourism, but locally trails can be difficult to find for anyone not familiar with the terrain.
There is no signage at the trails, and access points are overgrown and barely maintained.
The city has been asked to take ownership of the project, and Columbia Mayor Pam Hoots said the city council plans to add oversight of the Trail Town program to the city’s parks and recreation department.
“There is not a good access point at some of the locations, so we’re hoping to create some steps to help with that,” Hoots said.
Drivers heading into Columbia on the Louie B. Nunn Cumberland Expressway will pass signs that recognize Columbia as a Kentucky Trail Town and encourage drivers to take Exit 49 to find trails. In Columbia, that means mainly paddling Russell Creek.
After the exit, however, there are no signs to direct drivers to the different locations to enter the water. There is a kiosk near the water fountain on the public square with a map and list of different water trails that are available. However, there is no sign to send drivers to the kiosk.
One location people use for access to Russell Creek is just off Campbellsville Road past NAPA Auto Parts. They can also choose a location off Hwy. 206 just past Green Hills Road on property donated to the city. The third location, one of the older access points on the trail, is near the old city water plant.
“A good place to put in is probably our biggest need,” said Jada Atwood, a city employee and avid kayaker. “Most everyone puts in off Hwy. 206. We have a great thing here, if it would be just more accessible.”
Hoots said the work she wants done at the access points may start within the next six months.
“It is very important for economic development because people that come to town look for things they can share with their families. We want to make sure people have a place to go,” Hoots said.
Hoots said the first priority will be a ramp at each access point.
“It is something we’re going to have to allow in our budget, though we are looking at applying for a grant for this,” she said.
More information about the Trail Town Program can be found at kentuckytourism.com/ky-outdoors/trail-towns.
By Scott Wilson