With Highway Re-Routed, Paint Lick Striving to Reinvent Itself

Sep 12, 2017

Part 1 of a two-part series

Almost a year ago, the opening of a re-routed stretch of Kentucky Highway 52 changed the dynamics in the rural community of Paint Lick. 

Some might say the by-pass wiped the town that hugs the Madison-Garrard County line off the map. 

A county government leader, a local entrepreneur, and a number of residents view the disconnect as a plus, not a hindrance.

Vehicles whiz down Kentucky Highway 52, passing the standard green sign pointing toward Paint Lick.  Not even a mile off the two-lane state route is a relatively quiet area with just a handful of buildings, a few businesses, a health clinic, and a non-profit re-use store. 

Highway 52 used to cut right through Paint Lick. But, fewer vehicles passing through certainly doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Garrard County Judge John Wilson about what he feels is about to happen.

“I would guess that more money has been invested in Paint Lick in the last ten years than probably in the last hundred years.  And, you’re seeing that a phenomenal revitalization is taking place here.  It’s just really right on the precipice of really taking off,” said Wilson.  “This will be a destination for a certain niche market.”

The niche market is expected to include bed and breakfasts, farm-to-table eating, streetscape amenities, and an increased emphasis on cycling.

Much of the credit, according to Wilson, goes to Mark Gumbert who operates Copperhead Environmental Consulting.  Gumbert has lived in the area for two decades but, over the past ten years, has intensified his interest in revitalization.

“It was less expensive to be here than say Richmond or Lexington.  So, I was able to build a company and grow a company and acquire these historic buildings and renovate them and give something back to the community of Paint Lick,” said Gumbert.

Twenty-seven full-time employees at the environmental consulting firm work out of one of those buildings.  Some commute while six are local hires.  Renovation work along with a major sewer project are expected to pave the way for a new restaurant with farm-to-table offerings. 

It’s a different business model for Paint Lick, which once featured a grocery, bank, gas stations, and car dealership.  It’s one that non-profit swap shop volunteer Katie Rollins can appreciate.  Like the beef she got off a local grill.

“He had some really good dressed hamburgers.  I mean, cheeseburgers.  However you wanted them.  And, four miles up the road is where the beef came from,” noted Rollins.  “The cattle were raised up there.”

County Judge John Wilson sees a whole different atmosphere coming over time.  He envisions old-fashioned street lighting with outdoor dining to flourish in an area that couldn’t accommodate such leisure a few years ago.

“We’re talking about restaurants with outside seating and nobody wants to eat at a restaurant where you have a semi-truck passing within six feet of the table,” Wilson said.

The TransAmerica bike trail runs near Paint Lick.  Typically, hundreds of cyclists travel the cross-country route each year.  Madison County cyclist Phillip Hacker is among those working to see the trail come through Paint Lick.

“It’s a great place to ride.  So, we’re trying to bring as many people into the community as we can for cycling.  We’ve got free camping for cyclists.  We’ve got a bike shop that’s in the works for cyclists.  We’ll have the restaurant and what not.  I see it becoming a big deal here in Garrard County,” said Hacker.

And the benefits are felt at the county level.  County Judge Wilson says both payroll tax revenues and property assessments are increasing, signs that, even though it’s been by-passed by the highway, Paint Lick’s best days may be yet to come.