May 17, 2000 | By: Haven Miller
SANDY HOOK, KY

Seniors in the University of Kentucky's Landscape Architecture program have taken "hands-on, real-world" learning to a new level. For their fifth-year senior project, the students developed a comprehensive land use plan for Elliott County in eastern Kentucky. On a recent evening they presented the plan to community leaders.

"It was a great night because the students were here the entire semester working with the public and seeing what the citizens here want for their county," said Gwenda Adkins, UK Cooperative Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Science.

To undertake the project, the students first studied the county using maps, archives, data bases, and geographic information systems (GIS) technology. Then they spent time on-location evaluating sites, taking photographs, and meeting with local citizens. After several hundred hours of work, the students returned to Elliott county to present the plan – complete with state-of-the-art computer graphics – at the local courthouse.

"The presentation was very impressive," said Charles Ray Pennington, a community leader who supports the project. "It's been a while since we've had improvements to the county, and now is the time to start making a change. The students planned well, and we're excited about what they've got in mind for us."

The project, called "2000 Heritage Plan," provides details on developing recreation, tourism, and nature preservation opportunities in the Laurel Gorge area, as well as economic initiatives for local communities, including Sandy Hook.

"We're suggesting a land use plan and some artistic ideas for Sandy Hook that will be beneficial to everybody, and making sure that development guidelines are followed," said Joshua Karrick, UK landscape architecture senior. "Guidelines will insure safety, and will make sure costly mistakes are not made."

The student's plan incorporates site designs, regional and land use planning issues, and a broad picture of what might fit well into the county's unique heritage. The plan also takes into account a prison scheduled to be built there.

"We've suggested some planning guidelines for the area along Route 7 near where the prison will be located," said Karrick. "We're recommending that specific kinds of development be avoided in certain areas."

The students' help came at the invitation of county officials who are working to keep people and jobs from leaving the area. According to community leaders, what's unique about Elliott County and it's economic planning effort is that local people are driving it.

"People have really gotten behind it," said William Thomas, UK Cooperative Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources. "It's been extremely gratifying to see this kind of grassroots effort."

"It's unique in that it's coming from the County," said Adkins. "It's the people here saying ‘we don't want a handout – we want to make our own future.'"