The Parklands

The World Comes to Floyds Fork

With Floyds Fork as its backdrop and an already preserved landscape of meadowland and forest flowing off into the distance, the larger environmental world came to Louisville this month – bringing a $3 million promise of even more preservation and restoration with it.

     The guiding event was a press conference inside the glass window-enclosed Gheens Foundation Lodge at The Parklands of Floyds Fork. Its purpose was to announce an “excellence in urban conservative initiative” in which a $3 million grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, based in New York City, would be used over three years to help The Parklands do what it does best: preserve, protect and sustain its almost 4,000 acres of land while looking a century or two down the road for the best ways to do that.

Press Conference was held Jan 15, 2015 in the Parklands Room at Gheens Foundation Lodge. 


The Helmsley grant numbers alone are compelling. The initiative will include more than 32,000 native trees planted in the park, along with 80 acres of native meadows and prairie.

   It will create a Watchable Wildlife Program with signage, educational programming and site enhancement that will bring visitors – who numbered 1.2 million last year – up close and personal with the park’s native inhabitants.

   It will improve the habitat, migration, food and water sources for a broad mix of native wildlife, including raptors, salamanders, turkeys, river otter, quail, mink, migratory birds and butterflies. In fact, some aquatic turtles courtesy of Kentucky Fish & Wildlife were actually present at the event. 

    It will help preserve the endangered Kentucky Glade Cress plant, which is native only to Jefferson County, continue its program to remove invasive plants and create a 15-acre Woodland Garden in which native wildflowers, shrubs and trees such as dogwood, redbud and oaks will be the stars of the show.

   Better yet, the Woodland Garden acreage will be developed by Rick Darke, an author, photographer and lecturer on landscape design and preservation who is known around the world for his work on livable landscapes.

    He will work in conjunction with Eco-Tech Consultants of Louisville, who have already done a lot of work with The Parklands in biological analysis and eco-system analysis. The company will add five or more employees and contact many more specialists to complete the task.

   Beyond the bare facts, the press conference also had an emotional, uplifting edge, a happy homecoming that combined 10 years of Parklands planning and diligence with some down-home serendipity that helped bring this wider conservation world to town.

   The grant was announced by John Codey, a Helmsley Charitable Trust trustee, who was born in Louisville. He spoke fondly of growing up near Cherokee Park – one of the Olmsted Parks which the Parklands has always seen as its role model.

      Codey told of walking barefoot in Cherokee Park streams turning over rocks and hunting crayfish. He well remembered his joy and reverence at being among its trees, hiking its trails, listening to its birds, or just sitting quietly and doing nothing.

   “I enjoy being back here,” he said. “Louisville keeps calling me home.”


John Codey of the Helmsley Charitable Trust addressed the crowd while Dan Jones, 21st Century Parks CEO, Greg Fischer, Mayor of Louisville, and David A. Jones Sr., 21st Century Parks Treasurer listened. 


  His call to home comes with a story. In 2010, David Wood, a board member of 21st Century Parks which oversees park construction and operations, was chairman of the board of the James Graham Brown Cancer Center.

   Part of the center’s work involved research with tobacco plants seeking a drug that could help prevent cervical cancer, but at a much lower cost than existing drugs and thus would be very beneficial in Third World Countries.

   That same year The Helmsley Charitable Trust – with more than $1 billion committed since 2008 in a world-wide range of organizations – became very interested in that cancer research. Wood and Codey met for the first time at a press conference in Owensboro where Codey first mentioned his Louisville and Kentucky roots.

  “We struck up a conversation,” said Wood, “and as we walked past a Bluegrass band I professed my interest in Bluegrass music.”

   John Codey then said, “Me, too. My Mom was a country music singer-songwriter.”

   And then Wood shared that his daughter had been a singer-songwriter in Nashville. 

   That casual conversation and connection led to some brief talk about The Parklands project. As Codey returned to Kentucky on the cancer research grant, the men became closer and The Parklands became more of a topic.

Dan Jones, 21st Century Parks CEO speaks with John Codey of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, David Wood, 21st Century Parks Board Member, and Jullian Van Winkle after the press conference.


   From there Wood introduced Codey to David Jones, The Parklands guiding force who spent his childhood in Victory, Shawnee and Iroquois parks, and Dan Jones, chairman and CEO of The Parklands, who often visited the same Cherokee Park where Codey waded the stream.

   “Codey’s talk at the press conference,” said Wood, “sounded like Dan Jones all over again.”

    The bond led to a hiking tour of The Parklands with Codey and his wife, Anne. Which led to a series of discussions on its purpose and intent. Which led Codey and others with Helmsley to truly understand the planning, scope, direction and nurturing ways of The Parklands – which had already raised $122 million for construction, becoming the largest nonprofit park under construction in the country.

   Four years after that first brief discussion of Louisville and Bluegrass in Owensboro came the $3 million grant.

     What made it all the more exciting was the $4.2 billion Helmsley Trust had already been active in world-wide conservation efforts in the Galapagos, Ecuador as well as the Baja California Sur in Mexico – and in Madagascar and Myanmar.

   Its Web site lists its requirements for grants – each needing to include sustainable natural resource management, species conservation needs, the capacity for leadership of local conservation practices and the potential partner organizations and other funding sources – each of them right out of The Parklands mission statements.

   It was a matchup that led to The Parklands becoming one of the first entities in the United States to receive a Helmsley conservation grant. World-class had become more than a catch-phrase.

   “The Helmsley Trust brochure already mentions their funding in other areas,” said Wood. “If the Parklands of Floyds Fork can be in that same brochure, shoulder to shoulder with places like the Galapagos, Madagascar and Myanmar and its audience reads that, Louisville will have a larger presence in that world.”

   The press conference ended with the ceremonial planting of a fine redbud tree near the banks of Floyds Fork. Only about 31,999 native trees to go.

Mayor Greg Fischer, Rosaling Becker of the Helmsley Charitable TrustDan Jones, 21st Century Parks CEOJohn Codey of the Helmsley Charitable Trust, and David A. Jones Sr., 21st Century Parks Treasurer plant the first tree.

To read the press release and to see a map of where grant funds will be used, click here. 

Photos by John Nation
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About the Author

Picture of Bob Hill

Bob Hill

Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system – all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill’s stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.