By Bob Hill
Let the record show The Parklands of Floyds Fork officially took flight at about 10:30 a.m. on a sunny Saturday morning in November and by 11 a.m. all the rosy predictions for its future – including a semi-giddy “THIS IS GONNA BE AWESOME” pronouncement on park literature – seemed, if anything, understated.
The precise opening date – at least for the first half of the first park in the four park system – was Nov. 10, 2012. Its genesis stretched back to the 1990s when some people that mattered challenged Louisville leadership to come up with a future plan to match its Olmsted Parks legacy.
The result was a plan so grand that even the many people and Louisville entities who bought into it, shaped it, nursed it and funded it wondered at times if it could ever really happen.
What a bold concept it was; a winding, almost 20-mile, 4,000-acre multi-use park built in four distinct sections and stretching along mostly remote Floyds Fork from Shelbyville Road to Bardstown Road.
It would be a $120 million park financed by a combination of private donations as well as federal, state and Louisville governments; the park itself becoming part of the almost 100-mile loop around Louisville.
Then, there it was, stretched out across rolling hills and forested ridges above Floyds Fork, a large dream turned into evolving reality; Louisville’s encroaching development forever held at bay.
Dan Jones, Chairman and CEO of 21st Century Parks, the private, non-profit foundation guiding the park, saw those possibilities meld into permanence as he stood looking at the new decorative park signs guiding the hundreds of opening day guests – many already at home on the flowing paths of its Beckley Creek section.
With the signage came the appreciation that Project Manager Kevin Beck had entered into 70 separate land negotiations – many of them multiple negotiations – to stitch together the almost 20 miles of park land, including the 15 separate parcels along the Beckley Creek section of the park being dedicated. Not one parcel was acquired through condemnation procedures.
“Every one was different,” said Jones, “from getting permission of federal highways to go under Interstate-64, to MSD and Metro Parks—Kevin was involved in every single one of them.
“My basic feeling is that the park’s been a long time coming and it’s very gratifying to actually see it begin to open, but we still have work to do… This is only two miles of the nearly 20-mile park.
“But it finally shows people what we are doing out here….When the signs went in it made it a real place.”
Just as real was a ceremony the day before dedicating the William F. Miles Trailhead and Community Gardens at Beckley Creek Park.
Miles was a self-made man who in 1964 – along with his wife, Bernadine, who died of cancer in 1971 – bought the 211 acre Shelbyville Road farm that became the center of their family activities; cookouts, picnics, hayrides.
With the steady help of that family, and then his second wife, Phyllis, he transformed land once littered with debris and dotted with paid fishing lakes into a working farm. He sold it in 1995 to help create a needed Metropolitan Sewer District facility to clean up Floyds Fork. In 2011 the rest of that land became the north entrance to the Parklands of Floyds Fork – a perfect starting point.
The speaker at the Miles dedication was his great-grand daughter Clara Ruplinger, 17, a proud Male High School Bulldog. Standing shyly before a small group of park officials and family she explained the family wanted her to speak to symbolize the changing of the hands – the park passing on from one generation to the next; many of the people who worked on the park, or gave up their land for it, would not live long enough to see its true splendor.
She said her memories of Bill Miles began when as a small child she went on a family outing in a big black car:
“I must have been three or four…as we piled in there weren’t enough seats and I ended up sitting on what seemed like a giant man’s lap. I remember whining about not having a seatbelt. At this, however, the man laughed heartily and wrapped arms like iron cuffs around me.
““I’ve got you,” he said.
“Strong, kind, dependable. This is how I remember William F. Miles, my great-grandfather, My Pa-Paw.”
Pausing at times to deal with her emotions, she continued:
“Our family can only be thankful that the foundation has chosen to dedicate the trailhead building and lakes region to him. Thank you all so much for being such visionaries and making his dream come true.
“…I know that my Pa-Paw is here today, wrapping the land and dreams of the future in his arms like he did in my far-off memories.
““I’ve got you,” he says to all of us.”
That welcome feeling persisted into Saturday morning as Dan Jones, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, and David Jones, 21st Century Parks treasurer and Dan’s father, took turns from a podium perched on a ridge to thank the many people and organizations that fostered the park.
Park Director Scott Martin explained the day’s planned activities included four options that would someday become regular park fare; a two-mile guided hike into the woods; fly fishing for bass or trout with the Derby City Fly Fishers; a trip up the creek with the Kentuckiana Paddlers Association; a bike ride along the paved trails.
Failing that – at least on dedication day – a guided trip was also possible inside one of Louisville’s Toonerville II Trolleys.
Then there were those who couldn’t wait for any formal invitation. By 9 a.m. – an hour before the scheduled opening – the two mile section stretching from the Miles Trailhead to the grassy, 22-acre Egg Lawn south of Interstate 64 was already alive with bikers, hikers, fishermen and dogs on leashes leading their owners.
Beckley Creek Park tightly hugs the natural contour of the land as it flows south along Floyds Fork; the multi-use trail known as the Louisville Loop, weaving downhill past stone walls toward the river as the road curls around the fishing lakes above it. Along the way the Loop and park road rise to almost meet one another, then separate; the Loop disappearing back into the woods.
The morning sun turned the tall trees into gold-edged, stick-figure silhouettes. On one side of the road fishermen had staked out positions along the duly christened “Angler Lake,” the brush cut back along its edges to allow for casting. On the other side of the road, down a hill and sloping curve, was a canoe launch; paddling routes posted on a park kiosk.
Everywhere along the path and road were thick plantings of young native grasses and shrubs; maturity date in three or four years. Other areas of the road were flanked with more domesticated varieties of green grass and what seemed like hundreds of “Please Keep Off The Grass” signs.
A small pool of trout – about 1,800 were recently released into Floyds Fork – were circled up below one of the new bridges as if seeking directions. The fish will not survive Louisville summers; they were released to promote winter fishing activity in the park; their numbers monitored to get it right.
The park paths curl under Interstate-64 and open into the Egg Lawn; that grassy, oval-shaped 22 acres of someday festivals, sports tournaments, markets, kite flying and concert activity. All that is still on hold until the grass reaches adulthood in 2013.
The Egg Lawn’s outer car path is lined by hundreds of sycamore trees; their white bark another specifically designed winter attraction. The inner walking path – about 0.7 of a mile long – is lined in seven species of native trees such as oak, black gum and birch; the better to protect its overall look if any one of the seven falls to another invasive tree disease.
All around the Egg Lawn were walkers, joggers, actual runners and a young couple pushing a baby buggy. Whole families had taken up residence in the nearby playground area with its swings and climbing towers; the same area to provide watery “Sprayground” relief in the summer.
This north end of the park was designed more for the higher density Louisville population around it; more children’s play areas, open spaces and public buildings designed to both fit the landscape and their users – and they will surely come in droves.
Parklands Chief of Park Operations, Gary Rzepecki, said more than 20 varieties of native perennials, grasses and shrubs had been planted alongside the Gheens Foundation Lodge and PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation, among them switchgrass, orange coneflower, blue hyssop, wild ginger, carolina silverbell and the fiercely named rattlesnake master.
Further around the oval – off to the right across another bridge now closed – the beginning stages of the Humana Grand Allee were visible. Still part of the Beckley Creek Park, it’s an $8 million project that will include picnic groves, miles of hiking and cycling trails, multi-sports fields and a half-mile walk beneath two straight rows of 650 trees.
The general feeling is that’s gonna be awesome, too.
To view photos of the November 10th event, click here.