Bowling Green's Riverfront Parks Have Some Nice Things, But Enough to Get People to Go?

Feb 20, 2019

The Barren River runs through Bowling Green along the outskirts of a downtown district that's undergone several renewal projects since the late 1990s. RiverWalk Park, also known as Mitch McConnell Park, is along the water's downtown side.

Stone walls run the length of the park and globe lanterns that change colors light the space at night. It rests at the end of College Street, which runs from Western Kentucky University's campus to a footbridge over the water.

There's an open field across the way that used to be a landfill, and agravel path circles it and offers emergency boat access to the river.

Former Bowling Green Riverfront Foundation President Clinton Lewis spent years working with local governmental bodies and groups to turn the not-so-developed north side of the bridge into a singular recreation space called the "Barren River Outdoor Center".

On a walk through the park, Lewis pointed to the old landfill site before explaining some of the early plans.

Climbing Area Out, Bike Trail In

"Initially, we were going to put climbing boulders over here and then we realized that the landfill only has abou a three-foot clay cap with a little bit of top soil and grass. So, you can't put anything weight-bearing on it, but it's perfect for a bike track," Lewis said.

Working with friends and outdoors groups, Lewis took shovels and got to work building the Low Hollow Mountain Bike Trail in nearby Weldon Peete Park.

Someone would see two poorly marked options to get from one space to the other. On top of that, both require an adventurous spirit.

The two-lane River Street Bridge separates the grounds. That leaves park-goers hoping to travel between parks with options to either run across the bridge once traffi clears or go underneath.

Underneath the bridge is where the city is planning its next major waterfront update.

That won't likely be the only construction happening under the River Street Bridge in the near future. A rubble dam has caused an eddy to form and noticeably erode the bank, leading the state to also look at the area for anti-erosion work.

The footbrige linking the field and Weldon Peete could piggyback on some of that progress.

Bowling Green's Director of Neighborhood and Community Services, Brent Childers, said once the connecter is built "you're connected through alleyways and sidewalks and everything to the downtown area. And you're really only about six blocks from $450-$500 million in investments that we've seen in the last ten years."

Those Who Don't Know, Won't Go

The RiverWalk Park itself was an early target of that investment. In the late 1990s, the county and city teamed up to design a network of greenway trails. Early visions from a 1998 Greenbelt System Master Plan depict a playground, picnic pavillion and room for 60 paved parking spots.

While those plans didn't quite materialize, others did, including the trails at Weldon Peete Park. Many residents, however, may not know they're there.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization's Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning Advisory Committee currently oversees greenways plans. MPO coordinator Karissa Lemon said better informing the public about what's available is important.

"We need to work on advertising the greenways more and I know that that is a disconnect with the community in a lot of ways. A lot of community members might not know that there are greenways in our community," Lemon said.

She added the MPO's Facebook page typically has information about different outdoor recreation activities people can follow to learn more.

Waiting for Money in Next City Budget?

The construction of any of the MPO's plans requires city dollars. That's also been the hold up for some of the more visionary plans for waterfront recreation. Officials were looking to grants for funding before greenlighting projects.

Bowling Green City Commissioner Slim Nash says funding for the link between the old landfill and Weldon Peete Park has been secured. He's cautious about making promises about  construction, however, until the commission writes the next budget.

"It's tricky to say that it is for sure happening because it has not yet appeared in our budget to be able to do that. It is the number one item that we discuss that we felt like we could accomplish in the next short term," Nash said.

The city has already begun clearing overgrown brush from the area and litter clean up as a sign of new attention to the waterfront area. These are relatively minor touch ups, however.

Bigger projects like the installation of rock climbing boulders, a white water rafting park and downhill mountain biking courses would likely have to wait for grants or large donations.