By Katie Pratt
Jayoung Koo and her students discuss options for hiking and biking trails that would connect the northern
part of Bullitt County to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in the south. Photo by Steve Patton.
Some people would say Jayoung Koo is a trailblazer.
Those people would be right. In a conference room at the Bullitt County Fiscal Court this past summer, Koo and a team of four student interns presented stakeholders with options for trail routes in the county. The trails would connect the northern part of the county to Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in the southern part and be primarily used for hiking and biking.
Koo is the college’s first extension specialist in landscape architecture. Her goal is to work with Kentucky communities to create built environments that connect people to nature and support a healthy lifestyle.
“With every project, my students and I suggest ideas that are applicable to their settings, scale, and cultural characteristics, among other things,” Koo said. “Benefits of built environments include improved infrastructure and stronger bonds between community members, and ideally, they support economic growth.”
Koo was approached for the Bullitt County project by the fiscal court and two stakeholder groups, Concerned Families of Bullitt County and Future Fund Land Trust.
“UK has a good reputation and a good history of putting together projects like this, so we were excited to partner with them,” said Steve Henry, president of the Future Fund Land Trust.
Bill Duffy, president of the Concerned Families of Bullitt County, said his organization saw the project as an important opportunity for it to make a positive impact on the county.
“We don’t have public parks in Bullitt County, so this will be the start of building a park system in the county,” he said. “We would like the trail to follow existing waterways to Bernheim to take advantage of nature and connect to the trail system Dr. Henry has been working on.”
Henry began preservation work along Floyds Fork, a tributary of the Salt River, 21 years ago when the former lieutenant governor was a Jefferson County commissioner.
Eric Lee, a fifth-year landscape architecture major from Owensboro, credited the competitive summer internship with using what he learned in the classroom about landscape design and helping him to think on his feet.
“You can prepare for presentations all you want, but stakeholders always have more questions,” he said.
“This forces you to understand your part in the project along with everyone else’s part, so you know and understand the broad spectrum of the entire project.”
Koo, Lee, and other students continued to work with Bullitt County stakeholders on this project during the fall semester. Once a trail is determined, Duffy said the Bullitt County groups would begin to work out arrangements with landowners along the trail.
Paths to Progress
Since coming to UK a little more than two years ago, Koo has noticed a common theme among communities.
“Most of the requests I’ve gotten so far are from communities who want to improve their outdated, deteriorated, or unsustainable infrastructure,” said Koo, who also works with the college’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky.
This past spring, Koo and another group of students worked with Discover Downtown Middlesboro and the National Park Service to develop potential trail systems that would connect the city to Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
“Isaac Kremer, executive director of Discover Downtown Middlesboro, asked us to come up with some ideas to improve and enhance the city’s built environment to improve residents’ quality of life,” Koo said. “The students identified three trails in the city that would improve connectivity within city limits and eventually connect to the national park.”
They presented their options to Kremer.
Discover Downtown Middlesboro asked UK Landscape Architecture students to find ways to improve
and enhance the city's built environment to improve the quality of life for local residents.
“The students were consummate professionals, very accepting of feedback, and showed a genuine concern for the community,” Kremer said.
Through a grant from the Federal Highway Administration’s Recreational Trails Program, Discover Downtown Middlesboro will soon begin construction on a nearly two-mile path to connect the city with the national park. The group is seeking additional funding avenues to enhance walking and cycling infrastructure in town. Kremer believes it can eventually help Eastern Kentucky attract tourism and grow the economy.
“Trail system development in Kentucky has the potential to be done on such a massive scale that it will bring positive social and economic change over broad areas,” he said. “We are excited to be on the ground floor of this movement.”
He said word is getting out across the state about the professionalism of the UK students and faculty.
“Now people are referring to the Middlesboro model, where UK teams up with the community and state and federal stakeholders to get results,” he said.
As towns and counties discover the benefits of built environments, Koo and her students will help them revive their existing infrastructure—blazing trails to a brighter future for Kentucky.
Discover Downtown Middlesboro asked UK Landscape Architecture students to find ways to improve and enhance the city's built environment to improve the quality of life for local residents.