Though most notably known as the home of the Franklin County Farmer’s Market, River View Park, nestled along both banks of the Kentucky River downtown, offers much more.
A cooperative effort between the city, county, state and fish and wildlife, the park sits near the location where pioneer Stephen Frank was killed by American Indians while making salt at a ford in the river near Benson Creek in the 1780s. Frank’s Ford became Frankfort in his honor.
In 1792, after Kentucky became a state, Frankfort was in the running for being named the state capital against Legerwood’s Bend in Mercer County, Delany’s Ferry and Petersburg in Woodford County, Louisville, Lexington and Leestown. According to a monument located in the shelter at River View Park, Frankfort won, in part by perseverance, but more likely because the city offered the use of Andrew Holmes’ log home as the capitol for seven years; a number of city lots; 50 pounds worth of locks and hinges; 10 boxes of glass; 1,500 pounds of nails and $3,000 in gold.
“When people ask, ‘Why is Frankfort the capital?’” said Jim Parrish, director of Frankfort Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites. “I always say, ‘We bought it.’”
The story of the city’s roots is just one of 16 such markers located throughout River View Park.
Ward Oates Amphitheatre
Situated on the south end of the park, directly behind the Kentucky Bar Association, is the amphitheatre, a premier venue, with seating for up to 300 people.
The amphitheatre was a gift to the city from Ward Oates, a Frankfort fellow who had a passion and dream of building the complex, Parrish said. Following Oates death, it was discovered that he had left $110,000 earmarked for the venue along with riverbank.
“So we built it,” Parrish added.
With the Kentucky River as backdrop, the tiered grassy area is the perfect place to sit back and relax while listening to live music or catching a theatrical production.
Throughout the warmer months, the parks and recreation department hosts a free summer lunchtime concert series featuring a variety of local musicians. Concert-goers are urged to bring lunch for the hour-long set, which begins at 11:30 a.m.
Remaining acts on the summer schedule include Bonnie and Ronnie on Aug. 31; Jack Twombly on Sept. 14; The Sherry Sebastian Duo on Sept. 21; and Irish Hats on Sept. 28.
The Capital City Blues and River Festival, which benefits The Sunshine Center, a non-profit organization that boasts the community’s only housing for domestic violence and elder abuse victims, is slated for 5:30-10 p.m. Aug. 25 at the amphitheatre.
Lexington native Tee Dee Young and Tullie Brae will headline the event — rain or shine.
Wendall Thomas, of Fall City Smokers, will provide BBQ and fixins for purchase at the festival, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to The Sunshine Center. West Sixth Brewery will offer a selection of beers with a portion of the profits being donated to the organization.
Tickets cost $21.31 each or $265.54 for a table of eight and are available at www.thesunshinecenter.ticketspice.com/2018-capital-city-blues-and-river-festival.
The multi-use facility has also been used for special events including weddings, 5K races, yoga and Tai Chi.
“You name it, it happens here,” Parrish added.
Another attraction located near the amphitheatre and extending down the paved trail adjacent to the riverbank is the vibrant, colorful mural painted by local children over a three-year period.
Stroll through Kentucky history along the park trail, which connects downtown Frankfort, along Wilkinson Boulevard, with Buffalo Trace Distillery and Cove Spring Park.
Dotted along the trail, which is easily accessed from the amphitheatre or farmer’s market parking lot, and meanders along the riverbank, are numerous historical panels, pieces of art, sculptures and, of course, stunning views of the river.
“This is heavily used,” Parrish said, during a recent tour of the park. “There is always someone down here walking or jogging — a lot of regulars too.”
The trail also contains many memorial trees and a hand-hewn lumber shelter, which was constructed exclusively with pegs. The shelter, named in honor of former Frankfort resident R.T. Brooks, the father of longtime former parks director Steve Brooks, doesn’t have a single nail in it, according to Parrish.
There are also several examples of early dry-laid stone fences built without cement along the trail.
“It’s a true museum,” Parrish said, of the fences. “They’ve been through three floods and (there’s) not been a rock out of place.”
Portraying frontiersman Stephen Frank, Russ Kennedy offers a free 1½-hour tour on the park’s trail, which highlights many historical moments that have taken place along the river. Reservations are made by appointment by calling 502-803-0242.
The trail connects with the park’s main entrance, parking lot and boat dock, which houses the pontoon boat Nancy Wilkinson uses to give free 1½-hour scenic tours of the Kentucky River.
Reservations are required for the tours, which set off Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. between Memorial Day and Halloween. There is also a 6 p.m. tour on Wednesdays.
Nancy Wilkinson, which offers a view of the capital city from a different perspective, has a seven-passenger limit. To make a reservation, call 502-229-1887. River and weather conditions may affect the schedule.
The Kentucky River Thorobred, a 52-foot Coast Guard-certified floating classroom, also prebooks tours for school and community groups. The 1½-hour lessons include water quality, environmental education and the historical significance of the river.
Cruise reservations are required for the tours, which depart from the dock at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. To book a tour, call 502-597-6421 or email email@example.com.
During the summer months, Canoe Kentucky, a local water sports store, offers canoes and kayaks for rent near the dock. There is also a fishing pier and several picnic tables, for those wishing to dine riverside.
The park’s most popular attraction is the Franklin County Farmers Market, which offers fresh local produce, meat and flowers from 7 a.m. to noon on Tuesday and Thursdays and 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from mid-April through mid-November.
The market also opens on select Saturdays throughout the winter months.
Farmers from Franklin and surrounding counties also bring baked goods, honey, plants, eggs, soaps and preserves to sell.
There is something for everyone at the thrice-weekly market.
On Saturdays Sept. 1, Oct. 6 and Nov. 3, there are chief demonstrations from 9 a.m. to noon.
From 9 a.m. to noon on Aug. 25, Sept. 22, Oct. 27 and Nov. 24, musicians will play live for market shoppers.
In an effort to educate children on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables, the market offers Kids Day on the second Saturday of each month. In addition to a variety of activities, children are also given $2 in tokens to purchase produce at the farmers market. Upcoming Kids Days are slated for Sept. 8, Oct. 13, Nov. 10 and Dec. 8.
By accepting SNAP/EBT, Senior Nutrition, and WIC programs, the market also helps make healthy, locally grown food available to those who may not otherwise have access to it.
With so much to offer, River View Park is a must-see Frankfort attraction for both locals and tourists.