LA 975 Spring 2014, 16 Weeks, 14 Students

In Spring 2014, LA 975 partnered with Discover Downtown Middlesboro, Inc. (DDM) and the National Park Service (NPS) to provide technical assistance for a trail system in Middlesboro, KY, in Bell County through the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA). Fourteen undergraduate students from the Department of Landscape Architecture (UKLA) in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment provided planning and design services to the Middlesboro community. Project goals were not only to enhance the city’s built environment but also lay out a foundation to improve tourism related activities such as planning a trail system that would connect the core of their downtown and the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. CEDIK has worked with DDM since December 2013 and the UKLA students conducted their work between January and April 2014. A total of 40 stakeholders participated in 3 meetings during the community and student engagement process during which time community members shared knowledge and visions of their town with the students. Reflecting the service-learning pedagogy, the students were encouraged to utilize their enhanced visual communication skills to effectively present planning/design solutions to the clients-community members and the public.  The UKLA student designers prepared plans and designs that not only reflected community ideas but also incorporated current design trends as well as technical design standards into the trail system throughout the community design process.

As an outcome of the community engagement and design process, the community was able to visualize their ideas, visions and needs to improve Middlesboro’s physical landscape. The students gained experience by working on a real project, listening to and interacting with community-clients, and then communicating their ideas through visualization. As a result, DDM and stakeholders from surrounding counties in 3 states have started to meet and discuss the potential for a regional trail system. The tri-state/county communication and relationship building opportunity is utilizing the work that Extension and the UKLA students prepared by displaying project posters at regional meetings.

In the short-term, ideas from the students’ trail system plan will facilitate improvements to the part of the trail which already exists. The City of Middlesboro is in the process of applying for a Trail Town designation through the Office of Adventure Tourism’s Kentucky Trail Town Program. When designated, the city will be able to further promote recreational opportunities that exist in and around the city and county on a statewide and even regional level. Furthermore, DDM received a Levitt Foundation AMT grant for a 10-week music series event in 2015. In the intermediate, the community partner will be applying for grants that are relevant to enhancing their built environment. In the long-term, the City of Middlesboro should be able to successfully pursue economic development opportunities through tourism activities which will eventually improve the quality of life for its residents and the region.

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