A Salute To Service

On the outskirts of Henderson County, Ky., is the small town of Hebbardsville. With a history steeped in coal mining dating to the early 1800s, it is quite fitting that an old coal mine would breathe such new life into this community. In 2009, Patriot Coal completed and received the Commissioner’s Award for outstanding reclamation work of a surface mine of over 700 acres. In 2011, for the minuscule purchase price of $1, the county received over 500 acres from the Penn Virginia Operating Company. This gift laid the groundwork for the development of a park dedicated to the memory of the late Henderson County Judge Executive Sandy Lee Watkins.

Watkins was elected in 1994 and remained in office until his untimely death in 2010. A dedicated community leader, he was always striving to gather innovative ideas, always looking for the best possible solutions to problems, and continually on high alert for ways to enhance operations for the local government, businesses, and community. Watkins was totally devoted to the county’s residents; in turn, he was well-loved and respected at both the state and local levels.

A County Without A Park

Watkins’ wife Susie pointed out when addressing the fiscal court in 2010 that her husband often commented that “Henderson County was one of the few counties in Kentucky that did not have a park.” She went on to say, “This [park] program was very dear to his heart.” Ultimately, it was only fitting that this park bears his name. The current Henderson County Judge Executive, Hugh McCormick, along with County Engineer Bill Hubiak and with the full support of Henderson Fiscal Court, made plans at the time of the purchase to include fishing lakes, walking and hiking trails, horse trails, and an outdoor archery center to jump-start one of the dreams Watkins had for the county. Not only are these goals being met, but there is room for so much more.

Reusing Materials

Hubiak strives to beautify the county in the most cost-effective ways possible. As such, the park project received substantial support from local businesses with in-kind services and donations, such as drainage pipe and other materials essential to the development of the area. Land and water grants have made possible the purchase of additional land in order to secure the water right-of-way, thanks to the support of the Davis Family, whose property is aligned with the park. The Kentucky Department of Forestry is currently helping with plans for reforestation. Recycled materials are a huge part of Hubiak’s tireless efforts:

  • Partnerships with contractors who are repairing the local parkways that run through the community to obtain concrete and asphalt that are crushed and used for base on the developing roadways within the park.
  • Local utility companies have donated electric poles that were damaged in the ice storm of 2009 and from other more recent storms. The poles are used for parking barriers.
  • The maintenance building, now on-site, was a donation from Henderson Community College. The building was dismantled and rebuilt at Sandy Lee Watkins Park with assistance from the Henderson County Detention Center and the Henderson County Road Department.

On The Horizon

Sandy Lee Watkins Park is a beautiful nature park boasting four fishing lakes, one of which is currently a work-in-progress to be developed into a handicap-accessible area. There are numerous picnic shelters, a walking trail, and a playground, along with ample parking. The first event in the park was a 5K/10K held September 12, 2015, hosted by locals Lyndsey Estes and Sharon Carver, with runners from Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.

Projects currently in progress include:

  • Installation of a state-of-the art, 3-D, outdoor archery facility and a 2,400-square-foot building made possible by donations from Chase Fulcher. Fulcher contributes a vast amount of time, energy, and money to the community. Plans are underway to have the first event at the archery complex in the spring of 2016.
  • The second phase of the walking trail, which will total 3 miles upon completion, is being paid for by a grant from Federal Highways and awarded by the state.
  • A radio-controlled flyers landing strip will also be completed in the spring of 2016. This project has been spearheaded by a local Radio Control Model Airplane Club. The first planned event is scheduled to be held next summer.

Long-term goals for the facility include additions to the walking trail, construction of horse trails, skeet shooting, an indoor arena, and a campground with RV parking.

Bringing It All Together

It has been exhilarating to see how the community has joined together in efforts to provide spaces where families can enjoy outdoor activities or peaceful relaxation. No one group or organization could possibly have achieved in 2 years what has been made possible with the support of private businesses, clubs, and organizations, as well as with county departmental cooperation.

Mitzi Weber is the Director of Parks and Programs in Henderson, Ky. Reach her mweber@hendersonky.us.