This past April, like the half century before it, Paducah residents lit up their dogwoods and showcased the beautiful trees and bushes in yards and gardens and along sidewalks and driveways as part of the annual Dogwood Trail—a spring sanctuary of bursting blooms that has most recently earned the city yet another distinction—that of being listed as one of the top spots to enjoy the “natural rites of spring” by Luxury Travel Magazine.
Paducah’s Dogwood Trail was listed among the “must sees” of flower festivals across America in the spring of 2014. That comes as no surprise to the many beckoning botanists that have created and curated this bonanza of blossoms each year for the past 50.
Suellen Johnson has been a part of Paducah’s Dogwood Trail almost since it started. She moved to Paducah in 1969 with her family and quickly became an advocate for great gardening in her new hometown. For Johnson, the annual trail is a highlight of not just the spring, but the entire year in terms of the delights of yard and garden.
“We just get so excited and happy and proud,” she said. “It’s like putting on a play. You just want to show off all the beauty of the dogwoods and this beautiful spirit of our town.”
Many in Paducah still mourn the loss of some of our most heralded arboreal stanchions whose noble and upright presence often defined many of our community locales. However, due to the diligence of homeowners and civic beautifiers, hundreds of damaged trees were brought back to abundant life and once again branched out to welcome visitors from near and far in 2014 when the lights flooded Paducah’s wisps of pink and white dogwood blooms.
Joan Hank is one of those who either salvaged or replanted several of her dogwoods after the monster storm of 2009. Even at 84 Hank continues to spotlight her heavenly gathering of dogwoods and azaleas for all to see and enjoy. It’s a trust she’s taken most seriously for more than a quarter century.
Hank recently retired from the Civic Beautification Board, which has put the trail together since Dolly McNutt returned from Knoxville with the idea in 1964. Hank said in the many years she helped with the trail, there have been some memorable moments.
Buses often take groups along the trail, and one rainy evening a number of years ago Hank decided to ride along to enjoy the fairyland forest that is Paducah in the spring. She had asked her husband to make sure all their trees were lit, and as the bus turned down her street the driver announced that her house was coming up on the trail. But when the bus of passengers and guests arrived at what should have been her ingeniously illuminated home, EVERY LIGHT WAS OUT! Her flora was, alas, framed in black.
Hank also recalls the year when every part of the Dogwood Trail reception fell through. The person in charge of the punch had a death in the family and didn’t show. The band forgot about the gig, and the preacher for the prayer at the end of the reception was home with the flu. Yet Hank, the intrepid illuminator, still managed to pull off the party in spite of the setbacks.
“The trail is a celebration of spring,” said Dabney Haugh, the 2014 Chairperson. “It is a celebration of dogwoods, and it is a celebration of the community. We always encourage everyone in the community to light up their lawns and gardens even if they’re not on the trail.”
Since this year is a milestone for the trail, Haugh says there are several special events and even a 50th anniversary commemorative pin designed by Carol Vanderboegh. Special events included a bike ride along the trail hosted by Paducah’s BikeWorld along with an art and photography contest judged by the Paducah School of Art and Design.
“The citizens of Paducah, the community, are the ones who really do the trail,” she said. “They’re the ones who deserve the credit. They’re taking the time and energy to light up. It’s really spectacular. It’s kind of magical actually.”