We were 19 strong standing in bright sunlight on an asphalt parking lot in Miles Park just off Shelbyville Road in eastern Jefferson County. We were slathered in various suntan lotions and dressed in a scruffy mix of outdoor gear, shorts, T-shirts and baseball caps. The object of our mutual affection was Floyds Fork, which meandered through the park just beyond a row of nearby trees.
We were a mix of the curious and the experienced. The general feeling was the first day of canoe camp. It was a good feeling. It came with a vague sense of the unknown, some shared anticipation; a little bit like being a kid again. Sure, there was very little danger. Our drive-thru civilization lurked just over the hill on Shelbyville Road. We weren’t five minutes from food, gas, five lanes of traffic, a new condo or a bank loan.
But wasn’t the whole point of the journey to prove some sort of mutual co-existence between nature and five lanes of traffic is necessary and needed in Louisville – if not already at hand?
Our trip was one in a series along Floyds Fork sponsored by 21st Century Parks to paddle home just that point. As we stood in the parking lot somebody unrolled a big map of the proposed 20-mile park along Floyds Fork. Sandaled feet held it in place as the prominent features along the 3,200-acre stretch of land were explained. All well and good, but mostly we wanted to go see them.
Shortly after a buzzard cruised past high overhead – an ominous sign taken in good cheer – we all climbed into aluminum canoes and red kayaks and slid out across a wide bed of river gravel and worn rocks onto Floyds Fork. Our go-to-guy in all matters environmental was David M. Wicks, founder of the Jefferson County Public Schools Center for Environmental Education and a long-time friend of Floyds Fork.
He told us of a river now partly hemmed in by concrete development that’s almost manic in its water fluctuations, a river that stretches from Henry County to the Salt River in Bullitt County, a river that settlers and Native Americans once paddled without interruption from Fisherville to the Salt River to the Ohio River.
In theory, he said, if those flinty folks at Fort Knox would allow river tourism, it would be possible to paddle 85 miles on those connecting waters and reach downtown Louisville – the long way.
Our journey was less than four miles. The first minutes were spent in pleasant surprise. The river was a beige-green liquid carpet, placid and serene. Mottled-white sycamore trees arched overhead against the blue sky, their gnarly, twisted roots clawing at the river bank. There was an immediate sense of being in another world – at least until the “thwack” of someone hitting a golf ball at the nearby Midland Trail Golf Club floated across the water.
Mostly we slid along well below all that, Floyds Fork flowing through a flat channel cut in ancient limestone rock. In a place called “the oxbow” the river hooked back around toward itself; David Wicks predicted in a mere 10,000 years, or so, the river would create a big island there.
We were lucky. The water level was up and the paddling easy, save a half-dozen low spots in which our guides had to wrestle and steer our canoes along rocks and shallow white water where American water-willow grew in thick patches. A startled deer flashed across the water. Turtles decorated old logs. Some water fowl blew past, all wings and shadows. Somebody held up a mussel – alive and well. We stopped on a gravel bar, picked up rocks with fossils etched in bas relief – and five water-stained golf balls.
Civilization returned with a roar as we floated under Interstate 64; the drivers oblivious to our world below; something I shall never be again.
We drifted away from all that, too, easing past a marvelous, curling 20-foot wall of water-carved limestone to our take-out point just below the ruins of old dam once used by a Kentucky distillery.
The limestone wall is 450-million-years old. Our trip lasted about three hours. It was something to think about on the way home.