As the end of 2013 approaches, we at 21st Century Parks have been reflecting on our first full year of public operation. It’s my pleasure to publicly thank you for embracing and making possible The Parklands of Floyds Fork, Louisville’s newest public green space. When planning for this community-shaping conservation project began less than a decade ago, its creators, planners, and funders hoped that Louisville would adopt the new park system with the use and depth of care shown the city’s existing public spaces. Now, after only one year, we can emphatically say that the city has amazed us through its immediate and passionate adoption of The Parklands as an integral part of the community’s fabric. This is our small gesture of thanks, and more proof, we think, that Louisville is unique among U.S. cities.
2013 marked the completion of our ambitious capital campaign, as we celebrated raising more than $120 million dollars for construction of four new parks along Louisville’s eastern and southeastern edge. It is the confidence of Louisville’s businesses, foundations and individuals that are making this project a reality. Thanks to the community’s overwhelming support, we are on scheduled and on budget to open the southern parks in 2015.
But the city’s support can be measured in more than donations. This year we recorded nearly 800,000 park visits–more than doubling the use we projected. The Parklands were filled with energy and fun resulting from the many hikers, anglers, paddlers, exercisers, cyclists, leisure drivers, wildlife viewers, and more. We felt your enthusiasm for not only the new park architecture, but a renewed passion for exercise and outdoor activities that can only benefit our state’s health statistics. Sustained park visitation rates like this will help make Louisville a healthier city for the long-term, and we get to steps towards those goals every day as a new set of park enthusiasts are activated.
But not only that, you helped to make The Parklands a community gathering place. More than 10,000 of you showed up for our first attempts at Parklands-sponsored hikes, concerts, runs and rides. You utilized The Parklands as more than space to run, you selected it to host to your quinceañeras, birthday parties, bat mitvahs, weddings, corporate functions, family reunions, picnics, and celebrations. We are proud and humbled to have been a part of some of the most meaningful and special moments in your lives.
Louisville and its school systems helped realize our mission of improving scientific literacy, especially in regards to our own unique natural environment. Over 2,500 students participated in The Parklands’ Outdoor Classroom programs. Learning through the arts, natural history, mathematics, engineering, physics, chemistry, and other hard sciences, students gained an understanding of just how special our small place in the world is. Our Outdoor Classroom may be full of children today, but tomorrow these students are our region’s entrepreneurs, engineers, scientists, and leaders.
Another one of our surprises this year was the extent of which we were able to serve citizens from all areas of the city. Although our footprint has yet to stretch all the way to Bardstown Road, the entire city has activated The Parklands as we see visitors from across Jefferson County and into neighboring counties. You all have helped us demonstrate to the nation what very few communities can assert: an ability to blend the urban and rural, business and pleasure, formal and casual within a donor-supported public space.
As a donor-driven and supported public park, we asked the community to support The Parklands through contributions of time, talent, and treasure. Your gift of time brought over 4,000 hours of volunteerism in the park helping us to plant gardens, teach children, and interpret park resources. Your gifts of talent elevated our amenities into community assets through mountain bike lessons, fly fishing instruction, sports coaching, and much more. And your financial support of the park continues to allow us to operate without public tax support. Over 1,000 individuals and families showed their belief in The Parklands by becoming Founding Members. This strong sign of civic support and engagement means that The Parklands will be managed, preserved, and cared for by a team of accountable and accessible professionals all committed to the highest level of park stewardship.
Thank you, Louisville, for visiting, valuing, learning, volunteering, and contributing to The Parklands of Floyds Fork. This is a truly unique model across the U.S., and our success will be a case study for other communities and future projects. The speed at which we have been able to fundraise, open and construct this project can be attributed to your forward-thinking and faith in our ability to improve quality of place here in this great city. Thanks to you, we’re proving that this new model does more than work; it soars—and in the process strengthens a city that will be the envy of the nation for the next generation.
About the Author
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Dan holds degrees from Yale University (B.A., M.F.) and Indiana University, Bloomington (Ph.D.). He has spent much of his working life in the fields of education and business management. In addition to founding and managing his own business, he taught World History and the History of the American West at the University of Louisville, and most recently, an Honors Seminar entitled “Reading the Natural Landscape.” In 2004, he founded 21st Century Parks, Inc. a nonprofit corporation created to bring fresh vision to the development and preservation of new public parklands. Their current project, The Parklands of Floyds Fork, is one of the largest new metropolitan parks projects in the country: almost 4000 acres of new, donor-supported public park system in the last major undeveloped section of Metro Louisville. Dan is the founder of 21st Century Parks/The Parklands and currently serves as the Board Chair, where he oversees fundraising, planning, design, construction, and operations of the new parks. He is married, with four children, and enjoys hiking, camping and fishing with his family, skiing, running, and reading.