Prestonsburg Passage Project


“Happy Trails” to the Prestonsburg Passage at one year of service to the local residents and regional travelers! At just past the year anniversary of trail completion, a local news outlet reports that traffic is continually busy and is inspiring property development near the trail that will help the region leverage its continued economic development.

This news would be no surprise to Trail Champion and Prestonsburg Mayor Les Stapleton, who affirmed the transformative power of the Rails-to-Trails “Prestonsburg Passage”, saying, “This trail is very important to us. It is appropriately named the Prestonsburg Passage Rail Trail as it is another step for Prestonsburg’s passage from what it was to what it will be.” Indeed, Prestonsburg is located in the historic coal-producing region of Eastern Kentucky. The abandonment of coal production in this region has severely impacted this community and its citizens. As part of its efforts to seek alternative economies, the area’s significant natural resources are being leveraged to create destination-driven tourism attractions that draw statewide outdoor enthusiasts and local nature-lovers alike.

As a premier civil engineering and surveying firm rooted in our communities, Vaughn & Melton is dedicated to the delivery of quality, value, and innovative solutions to our clients and the communities they serve. Our commitment is so strong, we have adopted “Connecting People and Communities” as our brand positioning line. We are proud to have been a part of the Prestonsburg Passage “Rails to Trails” project as it is an excellent example of how our commitment is helping a community rebuild its economy for resilience in the 21st century.

The Prestonsburg Passage project was initiated and sponsored by the City of Prestonsburg and championed by Mayor Les Stapleton. The project’s $1.95 million funding was provided by an Abandoned Mines Land Grant (AMLG). Though challenging, the engineering and design requirements were greatly facilitated by the fact that the former railroad bed where the trail is located had little to no elevation changes to be considered. Still, there were several goals the city wanted to achieve with the project. First, and most pragmatic, was to transform the 8.6 mile stretch of abandoned CSX railroad bed into an asphalt-paved multi-use trail that would become a significant tourism asset. What’s more, the City was very invested in the new trail being easily accessible to anyone who wanted to use it. Thus, the final design and completed trail had to be able to accommodate a wide variety of user traffic, including hikers, runners, bike riders, horse riders, as well as support usage by people of all mobility-levels and wheelchair-bound visitors. Finally, the City wanted to further infuse the local economy by encouraging smaller, local contractors to competitively bid on the project’s various phases, so they requested that project bids be broken into four separate packages.

To assist the client in reaching these goals, Vaughn and Melton applied our expertise in a variety of engineering and surveying services and disciplines. First, we conducted a preliminary scoping study to identify problem areas or existing issues along what was formerly known as the Middle Creek Subdivision Railroad. This study determined the feasibility of converting the old railroad bed to a recreational trail from West Prestonsburg to David, Kentucky. It also included design analysis, cost estimates, and bridge inspection that was used to determine the scope for the final design and create a set of plans that could be constructed within the projected budget. Next, Vaughn & Melton provided construction plans and bid document preparation for the construction of the trail. The construction plans included signing plans, plan sheets for the construction of the trail, and tie-ins for trailheads at Archer Park. Detail sheets were also created for signs and gates at both the public and private road crossings, and pavement details were also provided for those crossings that had existing asphalt. Preliminary plans for the bridge repairs and retrofit were provided along with all required permit applications. The final bridge structure repair plans were prepared by J.M. Crawford & Associates out of Lexington, Kentucky.

On September 5, 2020, the Prestonsburg Passage Trail hosted an in-person grand opening, preceded on August 13th by the first-ever virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony by U.S. Rep. Harold Hal Rogers, Ky-05, and Gov. Andy Beshear in the Capitol Rotunda. Both events lauded projects that Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Secretary Rebecca Goodman said, “…are bringing jobs, tourism dollars and economic vitality to these communities.” The Prestonsburg Passage and its amenities are featured on travel websites, trail blogs, outdoor enthusiast non-profit sites, news outlets and even realty listings, showing that it has been enthusiastically accepted by the community and is attracting both tourists and local visitors of all ability-levels. Prestonsburg and Vaughn and Melton understand that to produce a quality enhancement that is inclusive of all ability levels is key to creating community spaces that serve all members of a community. A great example of this equity is the accessibility afforded individuals whose mobility is dependent on a wheelchair. This trail was designed specifically to reduce traditional barriers to access nature, thus providing an easier opportunity to get out and explore the rich natural resources of the Prestonsburg area for one and all.

In addition, the Mountain Bike Trails Association has included Prestonsburg Passage in its national ranking of trails and given the trail a four-star rating. Finally, the trail and associated outdoor adventure activities are spawning additional tourist development with the opening of the Falcon’s Nest Cabins tourist attraction in David, Kentucky, adding to the growing critical mass of other attractions in the area such as music, theatre, arts, and history. At the virtual ribbon-cutting ceremony, Kentucky State House Representative Ashley Tackett-Laferty said she hopes that the Passage will serve as an avenue which will connect Eastern Kentucky communities not only around the region, but also the state. Through projects like the Prestonsburg Passage, Vaughn & Melton is truly “connecting people and communities.”


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