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Advocating for a 4.3-mile greenbelt around the north side of Paducah seems only natural to bike shop owner Martha Emmons.

The project would connect three city parks, downtown businesses, historic and upscale neighborhoods, about 21 restaurants, and dozens of retailers via a multi-use trail for activities such as cycling, hiking, walking, rollerblading, and skateboarding.

Across the state of Kentucky, hundreds of people like Emmons are committed to preserving, developing, and caring for green space in their communities. Some, like Emmons, have become political activists for green space causes. Others do their part by planting community gardens with roses and daffodils, leading school group tours through arboretums, and weeding and pruning public spaces such as parks and cemeteries.

“We really have our heart in green spaces and physical fitness and healthy lifestyles,” says Emmons, who, along with her husband Hutch Smith, runs a shop called BikeWorld that’s located about half a mile from the proposed trail. “We look at the greenway as a whole quality of life issue.”

Over the last six years, Emmons and Smith have become liaisons between cycling enthusiasts and government officials on the greenway project. They’ve circulated petitions, spoken at public hearings, served on planning committees, and written letters to local, state, and federal officials.

Their efforts have helped Paducah win four grants worth $200,000 to plan and buy land, and are working to raise another $30,000 needed for the project.

Currently, both the funding and construction timing of the main greenway route are indefinite.

In Owensboro, volunteers have converted almost 10 acres of farm fields into a well-planned garden that blossoms with beds of daylilies, roses, irises, herbs, fruits, and berries.

The Western Kentucky Botanical Garden started when a local doctor deeded his property to the city for a dollar on the condition it would become a botanical garden, says Rita Kamuf Jacobs, garden director.

A group of volunteers, many of them certified as master gardeners, spent more than a year brainstorming ideas for the garden, says Jacobs, who was one of the early volunteer organizers.

A decade later, those visions are coming to fruition. “Not all of the gardens are finished,” she says. “Probably none is finished. When we get close to having one finished, we change it. That’s part of the fun of it.”

Volunteers not only plant seeds and pull weeds, but speak to community leaders, senior citizens, and school groups about horticulture.

“We’re trying to teach people that we are basically dependent on our surroundings,” Jacobs says. “It’s important how we treat our world and what we do with it. …We really believe in what we do.”

In Boone County, people with a similar passion are behind a 4-year-old, 121-acre arboretum located within the soccer and baseball fields of county-owned Central Park.

The Boone County Arboretum, developed by the county parks and recreation department and Cooperative Extension Service, features a 2-1/2-mile walking trail where visitors can study or just admire the 1,000 trees and 1,500 shrubs, says Kristopher Stone, director of the facility.

To improve the educational value of the facility, signs were installed identifying the trees and shrubs and describing their key characteristics, Stone says.

The arboretum is also used as a classroom on horticulture and landscaping by arboretum staff, a horticulture Extension agent, and volunteers.

Last summer, the arboretum also added a children’s garden with several themed beds, including a pollination garden (containing plants especially attractive to bees, butterflies, beetles, hummingbirds, and flies) and an ABC garden of annuals beginning with the letters from A to Z; a native plant area with perennials; a sensory raised-bed garden (containing scented geraniums, sweet basil, and mints) that people with disabilities can touch and smell; and household crop and medicinal plant gardens that highlight plants grown by early settlers in Kentucky for use in and around the home.

“The subdivisions are growing rapidly, and as we lose more natural areas and areas become developed, people need to have somewhere to go to escape all that,” says Stone.

Some of the most active developers and caretakers of Kentucky’s green space escapes are garden club members, who often take on civic beautification as club projects.

For instance, the 100 members of the Garden Club of Frankfort have raised funds for refurbishing and maintaining a 160-year-old chapel at the Frankfort Cemetery for more than 30 years. Now they’re seeking a national grant to re-landscape the grounds around the chapel, adjacent to Daniel and Rebecca Boone’s burial site, to include magnolias, crape myrtle, and other plants that were popular in the time when the pioneers roamed Kentucky, says Dianne Caines, immediate past president of the club.

“We have a tradition that our members are very dedicated to community service and gardening projects. It becomes a labor of love for us,” Caines says.

In Elizabethtown, Let’s Spruce Up is a group of volunteers who design and implement landscaping and planting projects. Hugo Davis, board president, explains their major focus is maintaining The Arboretum at the Prichard Community Center. “Our group also landscapes the four welcome signs into the city, and is getting ready to do a fifth one,” says Davis.

Greenspace Inc. is also a non-profit organization of volunteers who work with the city to promote, develop, and maintain the Elizabethtown Greenbelt and other projects. Celebrating their 30th anniversary this year, Greenspace has developed more than 18 miles of trails and two mini-parks around Freeman Lake, Buffalo Lake, and Fisherman’s Lake for passive recreation.

The Garden Club of Danville oversees the landscaping for several of that city’s historic sites, including a flower bed around the Governor’s Circle of Constitution Square, and the garden next to the Apothecary Shop at the Ephraim McDowell House, the restored home of a 19th-century surgeon.

Throughout the summer, garden club members plant daylilies around the Governor’s Circle plot, then go there regularly to deadhead, divide, and weed the flowers, says club president Virginia Biles.

At the Ephraim McDowell house, the volunteer gardeners have developed a garden of shade-loving plants such as hostas, daylilies, and irises, she says.

“We really wanted it to be a medicinal herb garden that’s historically correct for the time period, but there’s too much shade there,” Biles says. As an alternative, they’ve applied for a grant from the Garden Club of Kentucky to develop a kitchen herb garden across the street on Constitution Square. They hope to begin work this spring.

“We do it for the love of nature and gardening,” Biles explains. “We love flowers; we love plants. There’s a certain contentment that you feel by going out and working in the dirt. Goodness knows we all probably have enough to do around our own homes, but by making our community more beautiful, it gives us a great deal of pleasure.”


For information on training to earn a master gardener designation, contact the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office in your county. Contact information for county Extension agents is available at

The Garden Club of Kentucky includes 90 chapters in communities around the state. For more information, visit the state organization’s Web site at or contact Garden Club of Kentucky President Mary Keown at (859) 987-6158 or by e-mail at


The scents of pickles and bourbon may hang in the air when Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest opens its new visitor center in September.

The unusual aroma combination is one reason the building, which will serve as a gateway to the 14,000-acre arboretum in Bullitt and Nelson counties, will be one of the greenest ever built, says Dave Imbrogno, executive director for Bernheim.

The pickle smell comes from old cypress brine vats; the Heinz Corp. dismantled the vats and donated the recycled wood to the project. Similarly, Jim Beam and Brown-Forman distilleries donated wood from old whiskey warehouses.

“We’re not cutting many—if any—trees to build this building,” Imbrogno says.

The efforts to preserve trees, conserve energy, and revere nature run from deep under the foundation to the peaks of the roof on the center.

A geothermal system that involves pumping a liquid belowground, where there’s a constant temperature of 57 degrees, will heat and cool the building and reap dramatic energy savings, Imbrogno says.

A mix of prairie-like plants that are accustomed to thin soil and hot sun will grow on the roof. “We’re going to have as much green surface area when we’re done as we did when we started,” says Imbrogno.

Also, a passive solar design will capture the sun’s warmth in the winter and block its heat during the summer, also conserving energy.

The center’s design is so environmentally friendly that Bernheim officials expect the structure will be one of the first in the country to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s highest Platinum rating.

“It’s a pretty exciting building,” Imbrogno says. “One of the things that makes it even more significant is it’s built on a scale that’s easy for a homeowner or small business to imitate. There’s nothing fancy or high-tech.”

In addition to the visitor’s center, Bernheim is working on other enhancements to this 75-year-old green space.

For instance, a canopy tree walk will allow visitors to explore the animals and vegetation in the upper reaches of the forest. New interactive outdoor exhibits that take advantage of wireless handheld computers will educate visitors as they explore the arboretum. A scent maze will emphasize the smells of the forest. And a lakeside stage and amphitheater will open new opportunities to explore the cultural and spiritual sides of nature through art.

But as he ticks off the list of new features, Imbrogno notes that Bernheim officials recognize they can’t really improve on nature. “Bernheim is a wonderful place as it is,” he says. “All this stuff we’re doing is not changing it; we’re just adding new ways to encounter it.”


Henderson has planted 56 Japanese lilac trees in its downtown business district and is landscaping a new riverfront park with 74 shrubs and 43 trees.

Bowling Green is developing a citywide arboretum that is placing rare and exotic trees such as Persian Parrotias, an ornamental variety native to the Persian Gulf, in parks and cemeteries.

Madisonville has sponsored planting demonstrations and pruning workshops to teach its citizens about the best way to care for trees; and plans for a 540-foot serene tree-covered path and open-air environmental science classroom are in the works for a city park.

These three cities’ heavy investments in building their urban forests have earned them the designation of Tree City USA from the National Arbor Day Foundation. The foundation recognizes communities that meet basic requirements, including spending at least $2 per capita on forestry programs. Currently 27 Kentucky communities have met the Tree City requirements.

Meeting the Tree City standards is a good first step toward developing an urban forestry program, says Sarah Gracey, urban forestry coordinator for the Kentucky Division of Forestry. “Probably the most important thing is it brings an awareness of urban forestry to the citizens and government officials,” she says. “A lot of us don’t stop to take the time to think about trees lining the streets or the park, but it’s something that really touches everybody’s lives.”

Yukie Groves, president of Madisonville’s Tree Board, says her work on the board, along with training provided through the state master gardener program, have awakened a new interest in trees.

“The more understanding of trees I had, the more I felt motivated to get involved in preserving and taking care of them,” she says. “Preserving and managing the urban forest makes so much sense. …To me, it is a way of life.”

Currently 27 Kentucky communities have met the Tree City requirements:

Bowling Green
Calvert City
Fort Knox
Fort Thomas
Lexington-Fayette Urban
Pewee Valley
Warren County
Watterson Park

Source: The National Arbor Day Foundation.

For more information on Tree City programs, visit these Web sites:

National Arbor Day Foundation

Kentucky Division of Forestry


For a listing of arboretums in Kentucky, click here: arboretums

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