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Seven Appalachian counties use mini-grants to think as green as some cities

When we think of sustainability in U.S. cities, we usually think first of innovative metropolitan areas like Portland and Chicago. Locally, we often look to Lexington and Louisville for exemplary green initiatives. Sometimes it can seem like larger cities are the only ones taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, but smaller cities and towns across the country are often implementing their own green programs.

For the past two and a half years, I’ve been administering Bluegrass Greensource’s environmental mini-grant program for seven Appalachian counties to the east and south of Lexington. I’ve been fortunate to work with local governments, nonprofit organizations and schools in these communities, providing them with funding to implement a variety of environmental improvement and education projects.

 
Eastern Kentucky University used a mini-grant from Greensource to install solar panels. (Photo provided)Since 2010, our mini-grant program has provided over $330,000 in funding for 61 projects, ranging from outdoor classrooms to cleanups to innovative demonstration projects. Unfortunately the grant program is currently wrapping up, but we have been able to fund some exciting projects in the past few years.

Madison County Conservation District constructed a fallen livestock composting pad at Eastern Kentucky University’s Meadowbrook Farm. The composting facility is available for tours by student and professional groups, and its purpose is to provide farmers with an innovative, economical and sustainable option for addressing the problem of fallen animal disposal.

Berea Community School saved an estimated $3,250 per year on their electric bill by updating classroom lighting in the middle and high school wing of the building. The classroom lights were previously controlled with outdated rocker switches which lit several rooms at once. The school installed a series of individual classroom light switches, timers and occupancy sensors which will significantly reduce energy use in the building.

Lower Howard’s Creek Nature and Heritage Preserve in Winchester cleared invasive plant species on a five-acre section of the property and purchased signage in preparation for the opening of its first public nature trail. The 2.8 mile out-and-back John Holder Trail was dedicated in the spring of 2012.

Garrard County Fiscal Court developed a walking trail along Lancaster City Lake, and recently planted 900 native redbud and dogwood trees along the path.

Estill County Cooperative Extension District held a home composting workshop for 46 community members. Participants learned how to compost their kitchen and yard waste, and each household in attendance took home a countertop compost bin.

EKU installed a 1.6 kWh expandable solar panel system on the roof of the New Science Building, along with a real-time energy production logging and display system that will allow students to monitor the system’s energy output.

Lincoln County 4H worked with Crab Orchard Elementary students this spring to establish a garden behind the school. The garden club planted strawberries, tomatoes, peppers, beans, potatoes, corn, squash and kiwi. The dedicated students have been meeting weekly this summer to care for their plants and harvest their crops.

These projects are wonderful examples of the efforts that small communities across Kentucky and beyond are making to reduce their environmental impact. Sustainability in cities is about shrinking our environmental footprint through energy conservation, habitat protection, waste reduction, alternative transportation and more; but, it’s also about improving quality of life for local residents.

Clean water, public green space and trails, accessible recycling programs, and outdoor classrooms benefit everyone and make our local communities even better places to live. I’m thrilled to see that projects like these are taking place in Central Kentucky communities.

Sandy Bottoms joined Bluegrass PRIDE, now Bluegrass Greensource, in 2011 in the role of Grants Administrator. She is originally from Mount Washington and holds a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Kentucky, as well as a master’s in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia. Before joining, she worked with the Tennessee Department of Transportation. Contact Sandy at sandy@bgGreensource.org.

This article appeared in KY Forward on July 19, 2013.

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