In addition to the customary fast walkers and slow talkers who often stroll the length of its popular gravel walking path, there’s been a sudden flurry of new movement stirring along the River Arts Greenway in the heart of downtown Hazard:
• Three scrap-metal sculptures from last year’s Welding Rodeo—a lurking catfish and two giant turtles—are newly upon display for adults to admire and children to gaze upon in wonder.
• Colorful wooden benches are perched at intervals along the walking path, offering a cheerful place to sit and contemplate the austere beauty of the North Fork as long tangled vines of kudzu and Japanese creeper crinkle up and turn russet-brown.
• A newly installed little free library has sprouted up close to the Peace Garden, providing passersby young and elder with classic works of literary imagination.
Each of these new features are the gift of community volunteers—organizations and individuals—who steadfastly are helping develop and take care of the Greenway, which has slowly but surely arisen and blossomed forth from an initial ArtPlace America seed grant awarded in mid-2014 to Pathfinders of Perry County, the all-volunteer, local nonprofit organization that promotes outdoor recreation, wellness, civic engagement, and education.
The next wave of the Greenway’s ongoing development, already in the planning stages, likely will be spurred along by the project’s designation as the beneficiary of the 2016 Christmas for Charity gala scheduled for this Saturday evening, December 3 at the First Federal Center at Hazard Community and Technical College. The annual event has been a community tradition—and lot of fun—for the past 17 or 18 years, according to Annie Williams, one of the charity’s founders. Each year its proceeds benefit a different local community institution or nonprofit organization.
Pathfinders of Perry County, which continues to serve as the primary steward of the Greenway, is working closely with its community partners to plan the next stages of its ongoing development. The most likely step forward may be to design and build out the the Greenway’s riverside walking trail, extending it from the fishing pier behind City Hall
through a surprisingly beautiful riparian space beneath the formidable concrete Parking Structure on Main Street. In fact, Pathfinders is considering hiring a landscape architect to provide a set of architectural renderings that would help the group raise funds for the proposed project. It also is applying for other grant funds to obtain engineering support.
The proposed path beneath the Parking Structure would establish a sheltered trail along the riverbank, perhaps featuring small outdoor tables and chairs so that, illuminated by overhead strings of festive lighting, Hazard residents and visitors alike could relax and enjoy a summer evening. This phase of the Greenway’s construction also would link the walking path with the long-awaited ArtStation, now scheduled for its grand opening in August 2017. Greenway supporters also envision working out ways for entrepreneurial food trucks to provide its visitors with a light menu of food and beverages, especially at the Parklet that next year will be established adjacent to the outdoor basketball courts.
“The River Arts Greenway continues to help reinvent our downtown as a destination,” said Jenny Williams, who is chair of the Pathfinders board of directors. “It not only serves local residents who live here in Hazard and Perry County, but also our visitors, including some who may be considering moving here. And when a lot of people are finding good reasons to gather in our downtown, new businesses will surely follow.”
City Commissioner John Michael Quillen also is a staunch supporter of the Greenway. As he told the Candidates Forum at the Perry County Public Library on October 24, “I would love to, while I’m still in office, get the River Arts Greenway finished completely, all the way through town, across the Gorman Bridge, down the other end, and, you know, just make a circle. I think that would be something that would get the heart of this city up and running.”
The 2016 Christmas for Charity gala at HCTC’s First Federal Center will celebrate the 2016 holiday season—and the River Arts Greenway—from 8 pm until about 1 am on Saturday, December 3. Wayne and Shane Noble will create the gala event’s festive decorations, Annie Williams said. Carla and the Soulshine Band, a perennial crowd-pleaser, will provide live music for dancing and general enjoyment.
Individual tickets are $85 and may be purchased by calling the Hazard Clinic at (606) 439-1316. Table sponsorships also are available. Proceeds from the event will directly benefit the continuing efforts by Pathfinders of Perry County to design, organize, and leverage support for the next phase of construction and programming for the River Arts Greenway. Donations to support this work also can be arranged by calling Hazard Clinic.
For more information about the River Arts Greenway, please visit the Pathfinders website at http://pathperryky.org/artplace-america.html or the River Arts Greenway Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/RiverArtsGreenway/