One of London’s newest and most-popular community parks is about to get bigger.
The City of London soon will close on the purchase of about 10 acres of property adjacent to Whitley Branch Veterans Park, which will be used for another walking trail, additional parking and other activities.
The popularity of Whitley Branch has been gratifying to city officials but has left them scrambling to find ways to ease parking problems on busy days and congestion.
“We’re overused down there, no question about it,” said Mackey Williams, director of the city’s parks and recreation department. “We need to expand.”
The city plans to purchase 9.64 acres behind the park from the Durham family trust for a total price of $165,000. The money will come from tourism funds generated by the restaurant tax.
The additional acreage will give Whitley Branch more parking and another trailhead next to Southeast Farm Supply. Another access point will be across from the dog park where a bridge will be built leading to the new addition.
“As soon as we close on the property we will start to build the entranceway,” Williams said. “We have to remove some trees first, both for better access and to make other trees more healthy. Then we will start laying out the trail to make it ADA compliant.”
The new trail will be about a half-mile long and will connect with existing trails in the park. The property is more hilly, which will make the trail a bit more of a challenge for walkers.
“It will be a moderate walking trail, versus an easy walking trail in the rest of the park,” Williams said. “We also hope to put in a Frisbee golf area, unless we can find a better usage. It will be a dual-use addition.”
Mayor Troy Rudder said residents have asked for a more-challenging walking trail and other amenities at the park.
“The new acreage will add to the hiking trails, but there will be some incline now,” he said. “We’ve been asked for a more strenuous walking experience from some of our visitors, and this new addition will do just that.”
Williams said new restrooms at Whitley Branch hopefully will be finished by mid-summer, once officials in Frankfort have signed off on the plans.
Warm weather brings people to the park in droves to use the walking trails, playground or dog park.
”For a parks department this is the best problem we can have, knowing that we’re serving all of the community,” Williams said. “That’s been our goal from the beginning is to build a park system that is all-inclusive, for all ages. This is just another step in that direction.”
Along with the veterans park, significant enhancements have been made to all city public spaces since the inception of the restaurant tax and City of London Tourism Commission, including completion of the Wellness Park and Treetop Adventure at Levi Jackson State Park, and improvements to Mill Street Park.
London officials to unveil new Town Center project
The City of London and City of London Tourism are excited to unveil plans for a new public space right in the heart of downtown.
The project, appropriately called Town Center, is now a vacant lot on Main Street between East Ninth and East Maple Streets next to London Elementary School.
The city recently purchased 1.42 acres from Catholic Health Initiatives, who acquired the property in the early 2000’s to use for parking for Marymount Hospital just up the hill on Ninth Street.
The lot became available when a new St. Joseph London hospital was constructed at Exit 38 on I-75, and Marymount Hospital was demolished.
While the name of the space may change once final plans are completed, the project name pays homage to the former motel that stood on the property before CHI purchased it.
City and tourism officials, along with other stakeholders, will have the opportunity to define the scope of the project at a design workshop, with a detailed master plan to follow within six months.
Some ideas for the vacant lot have already been discussed. They include:
•Creating a space that is inclusive for many activities including but not limited to concerts, festivals, ice skating, art shows, etc.
•Planning for a stage/performance area, bathroom facility, green space and lush tree canopy.
•Designing the space to be adaptable and allow for heavy foot traffic.
Additional ideas and concepts will be gathered during the design phase of the project.
Town Center Park is the result of a concerted effort by city and tourism officials to expand park and wellness facilities and to draw tourists to London using the city’s three percent restaurant tax.
The new Whitley Branch Veterans Park will be dedicated following the veterans parade in London at 1 p.m. Saturday. The park on Dixie Street includes the Rotary playground, walking track, picnic area and bark park for dogs. In addition, new shelter houses and restrooms facilities will be completed over the next year.
Significant enhancements have been made to all city public spaces since the inception of the restaurant tax and tourism commission, including completion of the London-Laurel County Wellness Park and Treetop Adventure at Levi Jackson State Park, plus improvements to Mill Street Park.