Marking a milestone in an urban trail system, the Licking River Greenway and Trails project

With lots of help from volunteers, Covington leaders have completed two phases of the Licking River Greenway and Trails, key links in what should eventually be a 12-mile path that links four cities.

They marked the occasion by cutting a ribbon, celebrating the milestone of completing the two sections at an investment of $582,000.

The trail is now 2.5 miles long and attracts thousands of hikers, bikers, families and dog walkers, says Rosie Santos, Covington's parks and recreation director.

The Greenway was first proposed in 2005 by long-range planning group Vision 2015 as part of a 10-year plan that would link recreational opportunities in Covington, Taylor Mill, Newport and Wilder on either side of the Licking River.

Years of planning, applying for grants and recruiting help were followed by months of volunteers clearing brush to make way for actual construction of the trail. An official groundbreaking took place on May 5, 2012.

By autumn 2014, more than 1,000 volunteers had logged almost 3,400 hours to remove honeysuckle and other invasive plants, as well as fallen trees, litter, and other debris, says Natalie Gardner, who organized and led the effort as the then-director of Covington's Neighborhoods, Parks and Recreation Department. Volunteers came from businesses, community organizations, neighborhood groups, high schools, and scout groups.

"It was brutal, but I called them 'Honeysuckle Warriors' and gave out framed certificates in appreciation," she says.

Work crews chipped the mounds of brush into mulch, and Northern Kentucky University's Center for Applied Ecology (now the Center for Environmental Restoration) supplied technical expertise.

Funding came from a variety of sources, including private donations, foundations, businesses, and state and federal grants.

In 2013 and 2014, Covington and Vision 2015 worked with ArtWorks to paint 17 murals on concrete gatewells along the floodwall that are part of the stormwater overflow system. The city also gave permission to graffiti artists to decorate the floodwall.

The Greenway is part of a long-range plan to create a hub for urban outdoor recreation that involves everything from canoeing to hiking and biking.

Covington hopes to connect it via sidewalk signs to the Riverfront Commons trail being built along the Ohio River, Santos says. That would create an unbroken hiking and biking system along the Licking River that loops around the northern edge of the city to Devou Park.

"Most people think of Covington as an urban place because of its restaurants and bars, but we are fortunate to have an array of outdoors and nature activities even outside of the 700-plus-acre Devou Park," Santos says. "We have access to two rivers, hiking, biking, fishing, and paddling activities. Not many urban areas have what we have."
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Read more articles by David Holthaus.

David Holthaus is the managing editor of NKY Thrives, an award-winning journalist, and a Cincinnati native. When not writing or editing, he's likely to be bicycling, hiking, reading or watching classic movies.