For athletes, playing in a tournament or sports event is all about a competitive experience in which individuals and teams push the boundaries of their performance yet still have an enjoyable time. For families and friends attending the competition, it’s about a fun, memorable experience both on and off the competitive field. And for event organizers and owners, it’s about being able to offer these excellent experiences so their event continues to grow and improve year after year.
And when it comes to consistently satisfying all three groups — athletes, families and organizers — it’s hard to beat the on- and off-field experiences offered by Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
The heart of sports in Etown is the 158-acre Elizabethtown Sports Park, a state-of-the-art venue that opened in July 2012 and is one of the largest youth sports complexes in the country, designed to host national and regional events. It features 12 ball diamonds, 12 multi-sport fields (including two synthetic turf fields), an ADA-accessible baseball complex and much more. All full-size fields are fully lighted and designed with drainage systems and computerized irrigation, so event owners and operators can get the most play out of every day. The Sports Park has professional full-time management and staff and there are also offices, meeting space and officials’ locker rooms available.
For visitors to the Sports Park, there are six full-service concession stands, numerous restroom facilities (including family restrooms), three large covered pavilions with tables and seating and four playgrounds with misting stations. The park also features Wi-Fi throughout for live streaming and a three-mile walking/jogging trail. The ball diamonds have covered brick dugouts, warning tracks, bullpens, wireless scoreboards and shaded seating, and the championship diamonds include stadium seating.
After three and a half years in operation, the Sports Park continues to improve, with added fencing, service cart paths to keep the sidewalks clear, additional netting to catch balls and more. “It’s nice to have a few years under our belt and be able to do updates like these based on actual use and events,” says Janna Clark, the sports and sales director for the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau.
“People are coming to this area, experiencing the Sports Park, and they want to come back. That’s why we designed the park the way we did and continue to improve the facility, and why we’ve secured some of the best partners in the sports tourism industry,” she adds.
“But now, all the additional benefits are coming with that—all of the things that make visits to Elizabethtown even more enjoyable and add to the experience. As our Sports Park has improved, so has the community overall.”
New Experiences for Visitors
Among the features that are, or soon will be, adding to the visitor experience in Etown is a new hotel development adjacent to I-65, just minutes from the Sports Park. The new hotel complex will include a number of additional businesses and restaurants, too.
“This new complex, scheduled to debut in 2017, is just one of the areas of expansion, growth and improvement in our community that will really appeal to the Sports Park visitor,” Clark says. “As visitors exit the highway, they’ll see this construction as a sign that we’re all about expanding and catering to the visitor experience in Etown.”
A major attraction opening this summer in Elizabethtown will be the American Legion Park Pool, which will feature a huge main pool, a 175-foot-long lazy river and a spray pad with various features and play structures. The main pool is zero-depth entry and ADA accessible and hosts a large play structure with dumping buckets, slides and climbers. It has two 25-foot-tall slides—one an open flume and one a speed slide—a nine-foot deep end, vortex area, and several shade structures. (There also is a large party room guests can rent for birthday parties, private events and other functions.)
“City officials decided to update and expand the existing pool at American Legion Park, which will be great for both residents and for visitors to Elizabethtown,” says Seth Breitner, director of parks and recreation for the City of Elizabethtown. It’s just another example of how our community continues to grow and offer new experiences that will make a visit here memorable for all.”
One of the biggest changes to the area in the last few years is the downtown revitalization project, which is bringing new and renewed businesses, restaurants, entertainment and cultural options to Elizabethtown.
“The local effort to make visitor experiences here even better is progressing,” says Ed Poppe, director of Planning & Development for Elizabethtown. “We continue to see interest and momentum in revitalizing our downtown area with unique shopping, dining and entertainment options, and that’s helped spark private investment in restoring and improving our core area with local businesses.”
One factor that has helped fuel new restaurants and investment in the historic downtown area happened a few years ago, when this formerly dry county voted to allow the sale of alcohol. New businesses, such as Bourbon Barrel Tavern, a neighborhood bar that offers a wide selection of bourbon, wine, and craft beer, along with live entertainment, opened up downtown and attracted attention — and great reviews — from residents and visitors alike.
A number of locally owned and operated eateries — many occupying historic buildings in the downtown area — offers unique culinary experiences for visitors. Among the newer, popular businesses, for example, is Vibe Coffee on the downtown square, which selects its chemical-free coffee beans from local roasters. The new World Market Grill, also on the square and complete with outdoor seating, serves sports bar and pub food and offers live entertainment.
Of course, Elizabethtown is also attracting large restaurants and chains, too, including a new Buffalo Wild Wings sports bar and restaurant. “These new establishments, including large chain retail stores, all speak to how this area continues to prosper and offer an attractive atmosphere and climate for visitors, residents and businesses,” Clark says. In all, there are more than 100 restaurants to choose from in Elizabethtown and the city continues to add more, offering options to suit all budgets and tastes.
Unique Shopping and Festivals
The downtown revitalization project also is bringing more shopping to the area, especially in the form of unique boutiques that add to the visitor experience. “There are so many trendy shops,” Clark says. “Visitors who come to attend or play in events at the Sports Park will find so much to do in the downtown area.”
Many of the businesses that are being renovated do so in a manner that maintains the historic aspects and original aesthetics of the building. For example, the Bourbon Barrel Tavern has restored the tin ceiling and maintained the exposed brick of the original building, and many of the shops, restaurants and boutiques are trying to stay true to the original structures.
Of course, there are buildings in Elizabethtown that are all about history, including the Historic State Theater, which opened as a movie house in 1942 and is now fully restored to reflect its original construction, but with modern amenities. The State Theater hosts not only classic movies, but live concerts, comedy shows, theatrical productions and more.
“Second Saturday” is an event that takes place every month in the downtown area, featuring local merchants, live music and outdoor vendors. Other celebrations downtown include the Barbecue, Blues & Bike Festival, and the Cruising the Heartland festival, one of the fastest-growing automobile/cruise events in the country. In the summer, visitors should make it a point to go on the Historic Walking Tour of downtown, too.
“What’s exciting about Elizabethtown is that, in addition to all the growth and activity we have at the Sports Park, people will come here and see growth and vitality in the community overall,” says Sherry Murphy, executive director, Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau. “Our motto is ‘The City of Big Surprises,’ and for those who haven’t been here yet, we think the experience will delight athletes and their families.”