The pride, history, and diverse geography of Kentucky have long been on broad display in its many parks.
Its state parks stretch from the Big Sandy River to the Mississippi River, celebrating the state’s archeological treasures, its Civil War heritage, and its green mountains, water-carved caves, and heavily used lakes.
Its national parks and park sites bring to focus the role of Kentucky in American history: Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park; the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
Louisville—the state’s population center—has also enjoyed a strong legacy of parks, including those created by Frederick Law Olmsted that have enriched the city for more than 100 years.
That legacy is now being extended with an almost 4,000-acre, more than 20-mile-long park system being created along Floyds Fork Creek on the eastern and southern edge of Louisville running from Shelbyville Road to Bardstown Road.
It will stretch along meandering Floyds Fork through a still mostly open area of Louisville that was ripe for development, and will become part of a larger, 100-mile “loop” of parks around Louisville.
The new park—actually a series of four interconnected parks—will continue to unite Kentucky’s woods, water, and vibrant history in a more than $100 million recreational and preservation project that’s been recognized as one of the most creative in the United States.
Called The Parklands of Floyds Fork, and described as an outdoor classroom rich with natural history, the system is being created through a public-private effort of 21st Century Parks, a land trust called Future Fund, and Louisville Metro Parks. It was aided by $38 million in federal funding secured by Sen. Mitch McConnell and a $10 million pledge from Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. More than $50 million in private donations have also been raised.
The four parks will include 100 miles of new trails and overlooks for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and a scenic park drive for those who want to stay in their cars.
Staff members and park rangers will guide people to more than 20 miles of canoe trails, playgrounds, dog parks, fishing sites, historic homes, old growth forest, designated natural areas, and athletic fields.
Standing on one of the ridges above Floyds Fork, the long valley spreads out below, leaving little sense there are more than 1 million people living within 60 miles—or that 200-year-old beech trees are rising skyward just a few miles away.
And tying the Kentucky historical knot, Floyds Fork was named for John Floyd, a 1770s Kentucky pioneer and surveyor who fought with Daniel Boone and George Rogers Clark, and became a Revolutionary War privateer and one of Kentucky’s early military, judicial, and civic leaders before being killed by Indians in 1783 while on a trip to a salt lick near what is now Shepherdsville.
Birth of a Dream
Daniel Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of 21st Century Parks, says the project was born 10 years ago when the Olmsted Parks Conservancy invited community leaders to a meeting to discuss the strategic value of parks.
Included in the meeting were Brigid Sullivan, Louisville Metro Parks director, Bill Juckett, chairman of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy, and David Jones, Humana co-founder and Dan Jones’ father.
“They asked many questions that I don’t remember,” says Dan Jones, “but one stuck with me: ‘What should our generation be doing that would have the same impact as the Olmsted Parks?’
“After thinking about it for a few months, I decided that we should do what they did: get out ahead of the development curve and buy enough land to build a systemic, world-class addition to Louisville’s public park system.”
Jones says he asked Dan Church of Louisville’s Bravura design firm to create a “mini-master plan” to outline the possibilities and challenges of such a park—a plan funded by a $35,000 grant from the C.E. & S. Foundation. The results were encouraging.
“It looked doable to me,” Jones says.
He took that plan to his father, who has long been involved in civic projects in Louisville, and his father arranged a meeting between then Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson and his advisor Mary Lou Northern.
It all came together when Dan Jones met with Steve Henry, former Kentucky lieutenant governor and president of the nonprofit Future Fund, which since the early 1990s had been buying land along Floyds Fork to preserve and protect it. Those purchases had been funded, in part, by the Jones family, the Humana Foundation, Mary Bingham, and Steve Henry.
“We began to build a partnership there as well,” says Jones of Henry, adding that his initiative to buy land along Floyds Fork was a key to the eventual success of creating the park.
Park momentum grew from there. Dan Jones organized regular meetings with the mayor’s office, Future Fund, and Metro Parks—and in 2004 he formed 21st Century Parks.
The Philadelphia landscape architecture firm Wallace Roberts & Todd created a master plan that Louisville’s Bravura firm helped shape and implement.
Within seven years almost 70 parcels of land—ranging from a few acres to almost 600 acres—would be added to The Parklands mosaic; a map in 21st Century Parks’ Main Street office would show the piecework progress, and what parcels were needed next.
Gradually the pieces all came together: the planning, the fund-raising, the initial planting of trees, the building of new stone walls, the renovation of historic sites.
Although only partly open, the park has already been honored with three awards: The Merit Award from the National Park Service, an Honor Award in Analysis and Planning from the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the 2010 Place Maker Award from the Foundation for Landscape Studies.
With its Creekside Playground and Sprayground for kids already opened at the north edge of the park this spring—and its full completion date set for 2015—the new system will soon be an integral part of the Kentucky landscape.
As The Parklands of Floyds Fork Web site—go towww.theparklands.org—proudly proclaims: “This is not a park. This is a work of art created from oak, hickory, limestone, and shale…This is gonna be unique.”
Bob Hill’s Floyds Fork Journal serves as an ongoing conversation about the people who first cleared and settled that land, in a sense preserving it for us today as The Parklands. You can read his journal online at www.theparklands.org/category/bob-hills-journal.
What the Visitor Will Find
The four interconnected parks of The Parklands of Floyds Fork will run from Shelbyville Road to Bardstown Road—each with a specific name and mission.
The northern-most park—called Beckley Creek Park and created partly from the William F. Miles Park—will offer a canoe launch, walking trails, fishing ponds, community gardens, picnic pavilions, a splash park where children can play in the hot summer sun, a Gheens Foundation Lodge, and the 3,500-square-foot PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation, which will provide classrooms, visitor interpretation, and displays.
Blending modern and traditional architecture, the new structures at the site will include black-barn wood siding, stone walls, and exposed wood ceilings. The nearby 20-acre Egg Lawn, built in the shape of a hen’s egg and designed as a Floyds Fork Great Lawn, will be used for many athletic, kite flying, and community events.
Directly south of Beckley Creek Park will be Pope Lick Park, which will have canoe launches, a retreat house, a long system of trails and sports fields—along with a view of the Pope Lick railroad trestle that arches over the land.
Floyds Fork will then wander through Turkey Run Park, which will provide a renovated silo and barn, scenic overlooks, extensive horse, hiking, and mountain biking trails, and the historic Stout House built on property once owned by Daniel Boone’s brother, Squire Boone.
Broad Run Park, the southern-most in the chain and very close to Bardstown Road, will display waterfalls, dramatic vistas, a picnic pavilion, a long meadow, and—completing the vision, if not the plan—a children’s playground and splash park similar to the ones at the north edge of the park off Shelbyville Road, almost 22 miles away.
Implementing the Plan
So you’re looking at a map of more than 20 miles of diverse but interconnected land along a stream that zigzags its way across the Louisville landscape, you’ve been handed a general plan—and your mission is examine every acre of the land and discover what is interesting about it—stone walls, big trees, notable ecological communities, waterfalls, cliffs. You must find the “landscape stories” that will help you “read” the landscape to determine its land-use history.
Where do you begin?
For Michael Gaige, natural areas manager for The Parklands of Floyds Fork, it began by literally walking, riding, or paddling a canoe over and through every acre. “All my work here,” he says, “was built on wandering.”
Gaige, a student of geology, knew The Parklands were actually first formed about 450 million years ago when much of Kentucky was below a shallow tropical sea south of the equator.
As the earth’s surface literally shifted and heaved—and an incalculable number of brachiopods, bryozoans, and corals died—calcium-rich limestone layers formed, the same layers we now see in the fossil-rich bottoms of Floyds Fork.
Over tens of millions of years, Gaige says, as rainwater steadily washed over the soft limestone, a river was formed, a long valley was created, and a new park where visitors will soon come to learn of those fossils was born.
“The area is unique,” says Gaige, who already leads tours of those fossil beds, “in that it captures a large chunk of geologic history in a small area.”
Gaige passed on his knowledge of the land and its ancient history to Parks Director Scott Martin and the design team, who over long meetings with many of the park developers had to shape all the master planning, fact finding, and input into four continual parks.
Martin says that along with having great planning, the work required large amounts of public input; the park will preserve thousands of acres of land, but it will also lead hundreds of thousands of visitors a year into the area, so some conflict seemed inevitable.
One vital key after that, he said, was to get all those various ideas and pieces connected: “The power of this park lies in its connectivity.”
A second key was to let the geographic and natural areas be your guide, and, finally, take a good look at what has already been developed in the area in the way of roads, houses, and infrastructure, and see how that relates to the park as well.
Martin says building a park of this scope and scale in a Floyds Fork setting is very unusual. “There has been a lot of open space preservation with land already set aside, but it’s very rare in our country’s history to plan one of this size.
“It’s rarer still to actually have it executed.”
KEYWORD EXCLUSIVE: FLOYDS FORK NAMESAKE
Take a history lesson on John Floyd, from the guys he hung around with (the Boone brothers) to sites along the creek such as the health spa and old mill near Fisherville by going to Floyds Fork Namesake.