Increasing Rural Community Wealth and Environmental Health in Kentucky

Blog submitted by Sarah C. Gracey, urban forestry coordinator with the Kentucky Division of Forestry (KDF).

Kentucky's successful urban and community forestry project “Increasing Rural Community Wealth and Environmental Health in SW VA and SE KY Coal Counties” was funded as a USDA Forest Service State & Private Forestry organization competitive grant in 2011. In partnership with the Virginia Department of Forestry, the Kentucky and Virginia portions of the project were awarded to the Virginia Tech Community Design Assistance Center (CDAC).

The project developed conceptual greenspace plans for traditionally underserved communities with a goal of protecting and enhancing local community natural resources. A large component of the planning process involved multiple stakeholders from various backgrounds to get the most comprehensive and collaborative end result.

In Kentucky, the CDAC worked closely with the urban forestry coordinator to implement the program on a local level. KDF and CDAC collaborated on a project application with which local communities could apply. The application was advertised through Kentucky Area Development Districts in southeastern Kentucky in the spring of 2012.  CDAC and KDF met the communities onsite and discussed the planning process with them and from these initial meetings we selected communities with whom to work. 

Initial field visits with chosen communities began in the fall of 2012 and ran through early 2014.  In all, six communities had greenspace plans developed. Without the support of this project, these communities would otherwise not have been able to secure the planning resources that the grant provided.  These conceptual greenspace plans involved collaboration based on each community’s unique needs. In Kentucky the plans developed parks, greenways, wedding venues, streetscapes, disc golf courses, and memorial gardens. 

Because these professionally developed plans demonstrate multi-group collaboration, they can serve as catalysts for communities to seek other sources of grant funding.  Indeed, four communities have used these plans to secure $285,000 of non-USDA Forest Service grant funding to implement items in these greenspace plans.

We are excited about our success with CDAC and look forward to seeing how these communities work in the future to parlay these plans into even greater success.

The author has worked for the Kentucky Division of Forestry since 1997 and has served as the state urban forestry coordinator since 1999.

Kentucky State Forester Leah W. MacSwords is a member of the NASF urban and community forestry committee and is secretary/treasurer of the NASF Foundation board of directors.