Livingston is a Trail Town … and it Can’t Hide the Pride

Marker at the old Livingston School which is being converted into a Visitor’s Center
after being closed nearly twenty years.

On one of my first jaunts, I visited the small Rockcastle County community of Livingston. Soon after, I found an article that validated my findings of Livingston as a once-vibrant, but long forgotten community. 

But Livingston has no hotel, no drug store or bank or any of these sundry establishments. There was a time when all these and more were present. Not one, but four hotels and numerous boarding houses catered to temporary residents. Not one, but two doctors tended human frailty. All that remain now are ghosts, faint echoes of a once-prosperous past when Livingston was a busy and exciting place to live. Livingston’s Main Street, at the heart of the town, is a place of padlocked doors and boarded windows, of burned and sagging buildings, of broken glass and rotting timbers and unswept dust. (Focus, Winter 1999)

It was a sad indictment, yet even then there remained both a marker and a sense that Livingston “Can’t Hide the Pride.” So I returned last month to find a completely different place, except one thing had not changed at all. The Pride. It is almost as if the people of Livingston sought to fulfill my hope from September 2009, that “this community will again one day have a source of pride.”

As it turns out, Livingston has become its own Phoenix. On June 25 of this year, Livingston was designated the second Trail Town in Kentucky. This designation marks a major milestone for any small community.

The Livingston School (top) is being converted into a Visitor’s Center (middle),
while new opportunities are opening up throughout town (bottom).

Earlier in the year, my brother and I traveled by bicycle along a portion of the Great Allegheny Passage in southwestern Pennsylvania. There, strong industry used to keep employment high. But that industry vanished famished long ago. Yet through a committed citizenry and a group of elected officials with a forward looking vision, small communities have been reborn through increases in adventure tourism. Cyclists, mountain bikers, rafters, tubers, and kayakers all abound. These tourists also stay in locally-owned bed and breakfasts and hotels and eat at locally-owned diners and restaurants. It brings vitality and outside dollars into a small town, rather than seeing money only as an export.

And now, Livingston can share in this success. The old Graded School is being or has been converted into the new permanent trailhead. Along the S. Wilderness Rd. one can find directions to a canoe launch, the Wilderness Road Trail, and the Sheltowee Trace Trail. I could not be happier for Livingston.

The trailhead at Livingston

I pray that Livingston thrives on its new designation; if you haven’t been, go!

And the story of Livingston is a story that can be and should be told over and over again throughout Kentucky. The tourism dollars that flow into Kentucky represent a new form of industry that Kentucky has long allowed to go elsewhere.

The beauty of Eastern Kentucky could easily be a tourist’s paradise rather than the victim of mountaintop removal. Communities along the old Big Sandy Railroad – Winchester, Mount Sterling, Olympia, Morehead, Olive Hill, and Grayson – each stand to gain so much if the proposed rail to trail along that old railroad line between Lexington and Ashland were completed. It is this kind of new economy which encourages locally owned business, historic preservation, and landscape preservation.

The costs are relatively low, but it takes a vision. And it takes leadership.