Mountain splash helps highlight local deficiencies

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By John Herndon

There are times when you can't really see clearly unless you back away for a bit.

It is at that point that everything becomes much clearer. Unfortunately, a trip through the mountains of southeastern Kentucky last week brought the recreational opportunity situation in Anderson County into clear focus.

That focus shows a lack of vision by those chosen to lead Anderson County.

Over the past few years, I had noticed a water park situated across I-75 from the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg. Last Thursday, I took the opportunity to visit Kentucky Splash with my youngest daughter and had a blast.

We endured an 18,000 square foot wave pool, floated down the lazy river and sped down the giant water slides so many times that I lost count.

We didn't even take the time to try out the miniature golf course, go-kart track or the batting cages also in the complex, but it's doubtful I could have hit a curve ball in there any better than my whiffs against live pitching.

Suffice it to say, the park was more than worth the $8 admission charged on Mondays and Thursdays. A lot of other people must have thought so too since the parking lot had cars from many Kentucky counties and a good number from nearby Tennessee. (Admission is about double that rate on other days.)

Kentucky Splash isn't perfect - few things are - but it is a first-rate family entertainment facility run by the city of Williamsburg. Even this land lover is more than willing to go back and probably will in 2009.

As I floated around the lazy river, two thoughts came to my mind: How did a small town like Williamsburg pull this off and why, just why, does Anderson County not have at least some kind of recreational water facility?

I have heard the Anderson County powers-that-be give reasons ad nauseum but after spending a day at Kentucky Splash, I realize they are nothing more than lame excuses trying to cover repeated failures.

Back at my hotel, I paid a visit to the park's website where I found that the inspiration for a water park came when the city of Williamsburg needed to renovate the public swimming pool.

The website, www.kentuckysplash.com, says, "The city's public pool had been run down for some time and repairs of $600,000 and $700,000 were needed."

Sound familiar?

Seems I have read the same story in the pages of this paper, but instead of finding creative solutions, local leaders have been content to say, "The money is not there, we can't do anything."

The local pool, which was located at Legion Park, closed down several years ago.

What is certain is that Anderson County's recreational facilities, especially pertaining to the summertime swim, are pathetic.

When I drove through Barbourville on Friday and noticed another, but much smaller, water park sitting near Highway 25E, pathetic seemed to be kind in describing Anderson County's water recreation facilities.

You see, Williamsburg had 5,143 residents as of the 2000 census. That same year, Barbourville was home to 3,589. By comparison, Lawrenceburg had a population of 9,014.

To be fair, Whitley County, of which Williamsburg is the county seat, and Knox County (Barbourville), both had substantially larger overall populations than Anderson County.

Some would say the difference is Congressman Hal Rogers, who is known for getting projects done in his district, which includes Williamsburg. The complex housing Kentucky Splash is named after the longtime Republican representative.

Others would point to a nice, but much smaller, swimming facility such as the one at Harrodsburg's Anderson-Dean Park, and point to a huge benefactor being the impetus behind it.

Still others would say, "Why Williamsburg is right off I-75. That would be an easy place to draw a crowd." Of course that ignores the fact of Barbourville being on 25E, a road very similar, but not as heavily traveled as 127, the main road through Anderson County.

Nor does it answer the fact that the county sits between two other major roads, I-64 and the Martha Layne Collins Bluegrass Parkway.

In reality, no matter what town is involved, there had to be vision and the creativity to make a dream come to life.

And after spending a day at Kentucky Splash, it is obvious that leaders in Kentucky's southeastern mountains, an area often dismissed as backward and behind the times, certainly have those qualities in abundance when compared to those entrusted with making Anderson County a better place to live.