Livermore on cusp of Kentucky Trail Town certification

Mark Melloy, chairman of the Livermore Trail Town Task Force Merchant Committee, speaks at the Trail Town Merchant and Leader Luncheon on Friday at the McLean County Public Library.

Livermore is one step closer to becoming a Kentucky Trail Town.

“Livermore, and not every town is like this, has really been in touch with me throughout the whole process,” said Seth Wheat, director of tourism development at the Office of Adventure Tourism in Frankfort. “I think they’ve done everything they needed to do, it’s just a matter of getting the final application sent to me to review. I don’t expect there to be any issues with it. I certainly expect them to be certified, but it’s not technically, as of yet.”

“I consider this a celebration for the past five or six years to come to this point,” said Dr. Ralph Thacker, chairman of the Livermore Enhancement Foundation and co-director of the town’s Trail Town Task Force. “We have a lot going for us. I’m originally from Owensboro, but I brag that I can drive two minutes in any direction and get to a cornfield or I can jump in the river. It’s a great place to live. I want it to be a better place to live.”

The Kentucky Trail Town program, according to Wheat and the town’s Task Force Merchant Committee chairman, Mark Melloy, is designed to better connect communities to their nearby outdoor resources and maximize on both the economic potential and to improve the quality of life of Kentuckians.

The program does not strive to change a town, but to help connect it to nearby trails and parks, while also enhancing businesses by offering lodging, restaurants and retail business to make the town a better place to live and to provide more economic opportunities.

Once certified, Livermore would be the 25th Trail Town in the state. Currently, the closest Trail Towns are Dawson Springs in Hopkins County, Elizabethtown in Hardin County and Morgantown in Butler County.

Melloy said that the process of getting Livermore recognized as a Trail Town started roughly four years ago.

“Livermore is a town with trails,” Melloy said. “We’re blessed with two rivers, we’ve got a riverwalk, a hiking trail. We’ve got bike routes we have developed all across this part of the county and even across the county. And we have a lot of interested folks in this community that want to see Livermore be a better place to live.”

One of the final pieces of getting them to their certification was hosting their Trail Town Merchant and Leader Luncheon on Nov. 5 at McLean County Public Library. Discussions ranged from providing community members information about how to keep businesses thriving in a Trail Town, such as learning how to be effective with hospitality, growing the downtown area, and how to incorporate arts and culture.

Melloy knows that becoming a Trail Town would mean a lot for the city.

“Being a Trail Town gets us on the map for Adventure Tourism,” Melloy said. “It gets us on websites that we’re not on today. The Adventure Tourism market is big — there is a lot of money spent across this country on Adventure Tourism. These are folks not just from other parts of Kentucky, but from all over the country that look for places to go.”

Melloy, who is also the owner of Southern Outdoors, a power equipment and sporting goods store, said that the pandemic helped aid more revenue and increased the popularity of Livermore as a place to go, with people traveling from Louisville and Indianapolis.

“With everybody being home and being off work, our canoe and kayak rentals at the store were significant percentage points above and beyond what it had ever been,” Melloy said. “I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say that the bed and breakfast here in town probably saw more business than it had (seen) up to that point in time.”

Hospitality is one of the vital elements of being a successful Kentucky Trail Town, such as informing visitors what they can do during their stay.

“The hospitality goal … (has been) to educate local merchants on what you need to do to make sure that your front-line staff are informed about the Trail Town and the amenities that we have to offer,” Melloy said. “It makes us come across to visitors as a more holistic community that is centered around these Trail Town amenities and activities.”

Another focus is primarily concerning staffing at hospitality entities such as restaurants and cafes, which have taken a hit due to COVID, and improving overall staff retention.

Melloy said that Wheat suggested partnerships with surrounding cities such as Beaver Dam, Hartford and Owensboro — who are seeking hospitality consultants for communities to help drive training and resources for business.

“It’s not a bad thing to think about,” Melloy said.

Two guest speakers were also in attendance at the luncheon to share their ideas and offer advice to the crowd.

Tracy Robinson, deputy clerk for the city of Guthrie and the executive manager for Guthrie Partners for Main Street, spoke about towns such as Livermore that have lost the environment of a thriving downtown scene.

“Like many small cities across the state of Kentucky, sprawl happens,” Robinson said. “The core of your community moves closer to the interstates, to the Walmarts, the Targets, the big box retailers — and before you know it, your small town grocery stores are closing down because they can’t compete and your merchants are selling their buildings, and they become vacant buildings for years, which hurts the tax base of your local community.”

Robinson complimented the city’s scenery and the resources such as the library, which she said is vital to people that may be visiting Livermore for the first time.

“It’s really important in any community, large or small, to have those perspectives from people outside of your community; they can tell you the good and they can tell you the bad,” Robinson said. “And that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 19 years — pulling people into Guthrie in many different ways.”

Robinson discussed the benefits and importance of enhancing and revitalizing downtown areas, which was something she has been keen on in Guthrie.

“Our overall goal is to make Guthrie have a sense of place, a sense of community and definitely a sense of pride,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t matter how small your community is — it matters the quality and the effort the people are willing to put into it.”

Chris Cathers, executive director of Kentucky Arts Council, notes that arts and joining forces with others play significant roles in the success of a Trail Town.

“Creative collaborations are paramount to successful Trail Towns,” Cathers said.

Cathers said that people may wonder how the arts are necessary to the Trail Town program, considering how the focus is more nature and outdoor driven.

“What you’re dealing with that is you’re highlighting your culture,” Cathers said. “A lot of the ways that you highlight your culture is through your arts and having the capacity to demonstrate your arts. ...Art is everywhere. ...It touches on so many components of our lives.”

Cathers said that the arts means tourism, where an arts scene can attract tourists that will stay longer in the town and use some of their businesses for either day trips or extended stays.

“When somebody comes to your community, and even with Trail Towns specifically, they are coming for experiential travel,” Cathers said. “They want to have a cultural experience in your community. If they come here to be on a back trail, they want to see the scenery, they want to have the experience … and walk through the community.”

Cathers also mentioned the importance of people being able to commemorate their experience.

“From what I’ve seen from Trail Towns is that people want to take something back with them,” Cathers said. “They want to create an authentic experience ….”

“Most of what we do, and even with Trail Towns and with tourism as a whole, is getting the story and telling the story. ...You’re creating a story that somebody is going to take with them, and when they go to retell that story, what is that story going to be — because it can be a positive experience or it can be a negative experience.”

Cathers wanted to assure folks that Livermore was on the right track.

“You have all done a tremendous job,” Cathers said. “Typically, when I come to a Trail Town meeting, they are not as set up and ready to go as you are. ...You’re right on it. It’s great to see the collaborative effort is already there and the support is there.”

Thacker is happy to see Livermore’s status as a Trail Town finally coming together.

“I want to give one little quote from Carl Sandburg, ‘Nothing happens unless first a dream,’ ” Thacker said. “That’s just where this whole thing has been with me, and I just see potential and we’ve seen progress. I can count a lot of victories, even in the past year we’ve had.”

Freddie Bourne, fbourne@mcleannews.com

Freddie Bourne, fbourne@mcleannews.com

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