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Get Out and About in Northern Kentucky

The Northern Kentucky region provides outdoor activities for the entire community, from the roads to the rivers.

By Cary Estes on April 3, 2023

Devou Park in Covington, which is in the Northern Kentucky region.
Nathan Lambrecht

Expansive green spaces occupy the urban city of Covington, and that is much to the delight of its outdoor-enthusiastic residents. This is the atmosphere that permeates throughout the region, where nontraditional sports such as pickleball and street hockey (home of the aforementioned exotically named teams) are thriving right alongside such longtime favorites as hiking and cycling. 

Nikki Backherms, right, and Jimi Holle walk the Idlewild Disc Golf Course as the sun sets in Burlington, which is part of the Northern Kentucky region.
Nathan Lambrecht

“Northern Kentucky is a hidden gem of outdoor recreation,” says Miriam Wise, director of support and engagement for the nonprofit organization Adventure Crew, which works to connect city teens with nature. “The folks here are adventurous, and they take full advantage of outdoor spaces to try new activities. 

“That gives birth to some of these newer, younger-type group sports to go along with the community of folks who are doing more traditional recreation. That’s a way we keep our community active and healthy.” 

People play golf at the Devou Park Golf Course in Covington, which is located in Northern Kentucky.

For example, the pickleball craze that has swept the nation is prevalent in Northern Kentucky as well, with courts available at AJ Jolly Park in Alexandria and Boone Woods Park in Boone County. Meanwhile, disc golf enthusiasts have several places to play in the area, highlighted by the 24-hole Idlewild course in Burlington, which in 2021 was ranked as the No. 9 best course in the world by UDisc. It’s also the site of the LWS Open, a stop on the Disc Golf Pro Tour. Other area courses can be found at Boone Woods, Lincoln Ridge Park, Devou Park and South Fork Park. 

One of the things those sports have in common is they are relatively inexpensive to play. That’s also the case with hockey in the region since the birth of one local nonprofit. 

People watch the sunset over Covington and the Ohio River from Devou Park in Covington. Covington is part of the Northern Kentucky Region.
Nathan Lambrecht

In 2018, with support from the City of Covington and several local organizations, the nonprofit Covington Street Hockey League was founded to give youths and adults a free place to play. The group built a rink at Barb Cook Park, then began organizing tournaments and league play to go along with regular pickup games. 

“We did it with a mindset of inclusivity. Everybody is invited,” says Jason Kleinhenz, one of the league’s founders. “This community has a bunch of those types of things.” 

People enjoy the trails at Devou Park in Covington, which is part of the Northern Kentucky area.
Nathan Lambrecht

There are six teams in the league and more than 160 registered players. The sport is played year-round except when it is raining, and soon that may no longer be an issue as Kleinhenz says the group is working to raise funds to build a roof over the rink. 

“The mission of the league is to not only grow the game of hockey but to contribute to the community,” Kleinhenz says. “We have logged more than 6,000 volunteer hours in the community through park cleanups, food drives, toy drives and festivals. That’s one of the things that makes this area so special. Everybody is trying to help each other. There’s a mindset of mutual growth.” 

Nick Markwald plays the Idlewild Disc Golf Course in Burlington, which is in the Northern Kentucky area.
Nathan Lambrecht

A Ribbon of Color 

This effort to combine community with outdoor recreation is most vividly on display during the Ohio River Paddlefest, recognized as the nation’s largest paddling event. For a half-day, each August, a 9-mile section of the Ohio River is closed to motorized boats, and the water is engulfed by approximately 2,000 kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. 

Adventure Crew took over the planning and management of Paddlefest in 2016, and with help from primary sponsor St. Elizabeth Healthcare, the event quickly became the organization’s largest annual fundraiser. Wise says registration fees from Paddlefest participants account for 20% of the group’s yearly budget — funds that are used to provide area teens with free outdoor programs such as hiking, biking and kayaking. 

People participating in The Ohio River Paddlefest in Northern Kentucky.
Rob Butler

“We want to use this type of recreation to help the next generation of outdoor stewards connect with our local rivers and green spaces, so these sports and activities continue to grow in the future,” Wise says. “Paddlefest is about celebrating the river, enjoying the outdoors and making that type of recreation feel more accessible. 

“The boats launch steadily for about 90 minutes, and because they tend to be vibrantly colored, they create a ribbon of color down the river. Even if you’re not a paddler, it’s a great community event to watch.” 

Want to learn more about living and working in the Northern Kentucky region? Check out the latest edition of Livability Northern Kentucky.

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