The sun was just rising on a hot June morning when I unloaded my bicycle from the car and strapped on my helmet. I parked at the William F. Miles Trailhead, just off Shelbyville Road, in the northern section of Beckley Creek Park, and the most northern section of The Parklands system.
I wanted to get started before the summer heat kicked in, but the air was already humid. From the parking lot I could see the crops of the community garden covered in morning dew, and nothing but hills ahead of me on the horizon.
The mile marker said “74,” the starting point for my 7-mile trek (one-way). I hopped on my Schwinn and coasted a bit past the fishing lakes and past the Garden Gateway, a very particularly planned garden area at the park’s entrance. Around the curve the vista opened up to show the bottomland below, lined with a blanket of wildflowers. I relished the fun of coasting down the long hill, and even had to pump my brakes a few times to slow down. Looking behind me I was struck by anxiety for the return trip back up the ominous hill, but I couldn’t worry about that now.
At mile 73.2 I passed a couple of paddlers getting ready to put in at the North Beckley Paddling Access, and then continued on the Loop to where I imagined racing them along where the path parallels Floyds Fork. The shade of the hillside and the riparian trees makes this stretch a cooler one, and very scenic, quite possibly a favorite spot of mine. I’ve rarely traversed this section of the path without witnessing turtles bathing in the sun on logs below in the creek. Often a fisherman is wading in the water with his fly rod in full motion.
I pass an entrance to the Coppiced Woods Trail off the Loop and consider off-roading on the hike/bike trail, but decide to stick to my plan and stay on the pavement today. Riding on, I pass the water treatment plant and check the progress of the clematis growing up the specially-designed bollards separating the Loop and the park road.
Ahead I see the first new bridge of the project, leaping up over Floyds Fork and down to the I-64 underpass. Under the busy interstate I think how pleasant it is, despite the proximity to such a roaring road. As I come out on the other side I can see Floyds Fork, wide and enticing. I wonder if I can rig my fishing pole on my bike next time?
The Egg Lawn stands ahead of me and I’m faced with a decision. Go left, staying on the Loop, or right, on the road. Once again I’m reminded of my goals for the day and choose the Loop, although the other direction would likely lead to the sight of pups playing in The Barklands, a sight I find hard to resist. I settle instead for a view of newly planted trees on my left and women walking swiftly and pumping their arms on my right along the Egg Lawn Signature Trail. With Creekside Center in the near distance—it’s a little early now, but on my way back I’m sure to hear the squeals of kiddies enjoying the Sprayground and Playground— I follow the Loop over the second leaping bridge and pause for a moment at the center. Looking down over the creek I can detect the Gheens Foundation Lodge, sitting creekside, ready for whatever event the day will bring.
Turning back to center I can almost see all the way down the Humana Grand Allee, with is formal, half-mile promenade. The water at the donor fountain springs up as if it’s dancing. I ride past Humana Legacy Commons, and back around along the creek. I spy a few bike racks along the Loop where again I consider going off-course and locking my bike to allow for a walk on the crushed stone trail to the Boardwalk over the Allee Wetlands.
I pass a few early-rising runners and we both nod, staying to our respective sides of the Loop in order to share the trail. The distance between the Loop and the Allee trail widens and I notice the field of planted sunflowers has not yet bloomed. I look forward to the return of the sunflower field, and watching as the flowers’ faces follow the sun throughout the day.
I know I’m leaving the Grand Allee behind when I spot the next bridge, the Sara and W.L. Lyons Brown Bridge, which happens to be my favorite. The Loop winds under the bridge and I always pause to enjoy the shade and take in the beautiful view of the Flats area of Floyds Fork. From this spot I’ve spied herons and even baby raccoons out on the gravel bar when the water is low.
Nothing to report this morning.
As I pedal on I see the mile 71 marker and do the math in my head to see how far I’ve gone. I’m making good time, despite all the pausing I’ve been doing. It’s with that thought that I official designate my ride in this direction an exploratory one—taking in all the views and smells of the route—and I’ll challenge myself with speed on the return trip (although I know there’s just as much to see from the return perspective). Riding the Loop is as much about seeing as it is about sweating, at least in my perspective.
Up over the bridge and into Distillery Bend I continue, spotting another tempting off-shoot, the Valley of the Giants Trail, on my left. This area is relatively flat and sunny, passing agriculture fields and heading toward what I now begin to brace myself for—the “Great Wall”—my biggest challenge yet of the morning.
I pick up determined speed as I ascend the Great Wall, taking the Loop from the bottomland up 46 feet to Echo Trail. The Loop snakes along one side of the road, maintaining grade for ADA accessibility, and then turning under the road through a short tunnel. I ring the bell on my handlebars as I go through to see if it echoes. On the other side I tell myself that wasn’t so bad, and I say “so long for now” to Beckley Creek Park as I follow the crosswalk across S. English Station Rd.
Anticipation builds again, this time because I’m approaching my tied-for-favorite part of the Loop: Trestle Point. I wonder if the planners thought about how rewarding coasting through this section would feel to users after having climbed the Great Wall… but there’s no real time to mull that over as my bike picks up speed. This area traipses here and there in a pleasant twist of pavement through the trees, but requires some bike control to make sure you don’t scare unsuspecting walkers or swerve off trail. This downhill area is shaded by hardwoods and is bordered by a trickling stream, an oasis from the sun and hard inclines (at least in this direction). When you cross a small wooden bridge and come out along S. Pope Lick Road you wonder how you could have felt so remote just a moment before in the forest, and now travel so quickly back towards civilization.
But before you make it to Taylorsville Road you must always pause. The train trestle above is home of the famed Pope Lick Monster, one of our city’s most famous urban legends. So naturally you must pause and scan the trestle above for “the goat man.” If you ever spot him, let me know. Until then, I’ll keep looking…
Cautiously I negotiate the crosswalk over S. Pope Lick Road, and hop off my bike as this is a “bike dismount” zone due to the narrow trail. I enjoy the slowed-down pace and gaze over at Pope Lick Creek, shallow but beautiful. I imagine the Pope Lick Monster walking under Taylorsville Road on this path, excited to now have easy access to the other side.
This particular morning I decided to stop in Hatmaker’s gas station for a Gatorade, my water just wasn’t cutting it. Back on the Loop near mile 68.6, I followed the winding path to the sports fields at John Floyd Fields. Although Pope Lick Park technically begins at Trestle Point, for many this is where Pope Lick really begins.
No soccer is being played this morning as I pass the fields and pass the John Floyd Community Building, but a mother and child are already on the small playground nearby. I wave to them as I pass and head beyond the fields to an area of Pope Lick Park I think many people miss. No road heads in this direction, just the Loop, so as I ride I feel in on a bit of a secret, with the pedestrian bridge up ahead.
This is another spot worth pausing and taking in the view. Sometimes you can see fish below and often times you’ll spot deer and other wildlife. It’s super quiet suddenly, and if I didn’t know I was only a mile from Taylorsville Road I would think I was a million miles away. As I pass the mile 67 marker, I can see the end ahead. A “closed for construction” sign appears as the paved path literally comes to an end and I wish there was more. I also wish there was an accompanying sign that read, “to be continued…” as there will most certainly be more in the near future.
I peer over the sign and try to imagine which way the Loop will meander through the field ahead. After some reflection I turn and head back, full speed ahead.
To see more photos from Ellen’s ride along the Louisville Loop in The Parklands, click here. To view a map of the open Louisville Loop Floyds Fork sections, click here. Here’s a Google Maps view of the route taken by Ellen in June of 2014:
About the Author
Ellen Doolittle Oost
Ellen has been the Director of Development at 21st Century Parks since April of 2015. In this role she oversees fundraising functions for The Parklands, including the annual fund/membership campaign, corporate sponsorships, supporting the Board of Directors, leading major fundraising events, and seeking grant and foundational support. It’s her goal to create multiple compelling opportunities for donors to support The Parklands, a donor-supported public park that does not receive tax dollar support on an annual basis but has four world-class parks free and open to the public 365 days a year.
Although fairly new to this role, Ellen is intimately familiar with The Parklands as she spent the previous 3 years as the Communications Manager in charge of public relations, social media, community outreach and marketing for the parks. Before joining 21st Century Parks she spent three years with Louisville-based advertising agency Doe-Anderson. Her background also includes marketing and account service roles at Anheuser-Busch InBev, PriceWeber advertising agency, and direct mail marketing at Traffic Builders, Inc. Ellen is a graduate of Marietta College where she studied advertising, public relations and marketing and played volleyball. In her spare time she enjoys hiking, camping, and traveling with her two mutts and her husband Andrew.