This super-sized version of the 12 Things blog was written specifically for the Greater Ashland Beacon and appeared in the April 14 edition of the newspaper.
A few months ago I drove by a Papa John’s in Ashland and noticed that their sign read, “Ashland KY The Best City in the World.” I love Ashland and I’m about as positive a guy as you’ll find, but even I paused for a second and thought, “Really? Seriously? This Ashland, KY?” Then I thought a bit more.
Ashland does have a lot going for it. Here’s 16 super cool things about this quaint Eastern Kentucky city.
1. Ashland Community and Technical College – Did you know that in recent years ACTC has TWICE been ranked among the top 10% of all community colleges (1,000+) in the country? Most notably, the Washington Journal listed the school at #43 just a couple years ago.
2. Paramount Arts Center – Among this classic theatre’s most important accomplishments (and there are many) is a Youth Education Series that serves tens of thousands of regional students of all ages and offers them introductions to theatre, music, and more.
3. Central Park – This beautiful downtown park includes one of the coolest imaginable playgrounds for a four year old (or a forty year old like me) to run and play. It’s really four playgrounds in one. The opposite end of the park can offer a quiet, meditative stroll, if one prefers peace over the screams of children playing. On the park’s edge is a delightful library.
4. Galleries! – You’d have a hard time finding another city of like size that includes as much of a focus on art as downtown Ashland. Artistic spirit abounds at the Pendleton, the Frame Up, and more.
5. Poage Landing Days – This fall festival turns downtown Ashland into a whirlwind of possibilities where kids can take in a story, create a craft or jump in a bounce house and where adults can take in a show, shop, gather with friends, or simply people watch.
6. All the World’s a Stage – The community theatre scene is so active with kids and adults – more so than many areas twice the size. Be it Company of Dreams, the Paramount Players, ACTC Theatre, ACT, or others, there’s always an opportunity to get involved on stage or behind the scenes.
7. Food, Glorious Food – You won’t find a better steak or bread anywhere than at Texas Roadhouse, and it has been scientifically proven that most Ashlander’s veins flow half blood and half grease from delicious Giovanni’s pizzas. If it’s the best in fair food and ice cream you prefer, Crisp’s Dairy Treat is not far outside the city limits. And I dare you to try Suplex Tacos and not expect to eat there at least once a week for the rest of your life.
8. Bobby Blaze – Did you know our community was home to a piece of pro wrestling history? Bobby Blaze Smedley not only worked for years in the wrestling business, but also wrote a book that is a fascinating account of his many squared-circle war stories, and a nice tribute to his upbringing. “Pin Me, Pay Me! Have Boots, Will Travel” is available on Amazon and has earned quite a few five star ratings.
9. Jesse Stuart – Country Gentleman magazine once touted Stuart as, “America’s foremost chronicler of rural life,” and Ashland’s Jesse Stuart Foundation is, undoubtedly, the foremost chronicler of this famous author’s work.
10. Merry Christmas! If there’s one event in all of the Tri-State that attracts more wonder and awe than the Winter Wonderland of Lights, I don’t know what it is. Thousands upon thousands drive by each holiday season to get a glimpse at Central Park lit up a thousand different ways.
11. King’s Daughters – Did you know that KDMC is the not only the fourth largest hospital in the state, but also the largest employer in the city? Way to go, King’s Daughters.
12. Summer Motion – Ashland’s newly renovated riverfront park is the envy of every riverfront town within a 50 mile radius and host to this summer festival that features national recording artists, good food, games, and a variety of activities for kids of all ages.
13. The Country Music Highway – If you are a fan of country music, there’s far worse places you could be. As a stop on the Country Music Highway and part of a Tri-State metropolitan area that buys more country music albums than just about anywhere in the US, Ashland folks know their way around some Johnny Cash, George Straight, or Miranda Lambert as well as anyone.
14. Ashland Town Center Mall – There’s a nice big mall in the heart of it all. Good for a haircut or a new pair of shoes or the best in UK gear, but I prefer the mall play area, which has been a favorite of my son since he was able to walk. This mall has all of your usuals, plus a unique comic book store where you can feed your Inner Geek.
15. The Highlands Museum and Discovery Center – A real jewel. Dig for dinosaur bones in an archeological exhibit, drive a mini replica ambulance, play on imaginatively themed playgrounds, and much more.
16. Small City with a Big Heart – I know there are problems. Unemployment and hunger and addiction plague our entire Tri-State, and many others. Fortunately, there are also a lot of organizations devoted to helping those in need…faith based and otherwise, from Ashland Community Kitchen to Pathways to River Cities Harvest to Safe Harbor, and much, much more. Ashland’s efforts in this department are truly unmatched by like communities. To say this small town has a big heart would be an understatement.
All this in a comfortable city of 22,000 tucked deep in the picturesque Eastern Kentucky hills where the sausage gravy and hot dog sauce and light beer flow freely.
Who am I to scoff at you, Papa John’s sign? Ashland, KY may just be the best city in the world.