You will not find me setting up camp in the woods or taking a weekend hiking trip unless I have been forced to do so. Donâ€™t get me wrong; I love being outside. I love sitting on my front porch with a good book. I love eating on patios at restaurants. And I love frequenting local parks for a long walk and a dose of Vitamin D.
But for me, the best kind of park allows you to enjoy the enchantment of nature without straying too far from the city. It has activities for both children and adults and can serve as an afternoon or day-long escape from our day-to-day responsibilities. It has areas so unbelievably scenic and beautiful that you feel like youâ€™ve entered another place entirely. This park exists right here in Louisville, just 20 minutes from downtown.
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is the brainchild of three influential Louisvillians: Bill Juckett, chairman of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy; Dan Jones, chairman and CEO of 21st Century Parks, the nonprofit corporation that created The Parklands; and his father David Jones, one of the two founders of Humana.
As a Louisville native and a graduate of Yale Universityâ€™s School of Forestry, Dan Jones has put his heart and soul into the project, which began in 2011 and now, just five years, is almost complete. The park itself is about 20 miles long and covers almost 4,000 acres, 2,500 of which are set aside for wildlife habitats.
â€œThe idea for this park was to go outside of where the city is developed and create not just a series of small parks,â€ says Scott Martin, director of The Parklands and avid outdoorsman. â€œInstead, they wanted to think in Olmstedâ€™s tradition â€“ think big and act big with a 4,000-acre systemic park system.â€
With the recent completion of Beckley Creek Park, The Parklands is an almost fully finished product. The new addition includes a 22-acre event lawn, picnic pavilions, a large playground and a sprayground. If youâ€™re interested in a quieter park experience, Pope Lick Park may be the place for you. Explore the hiking trails of Big Beech Woods, fish along the banks of Floyds Fork or take a stroll around one of the many walking paths. The beauty of this area is absolutely astounding and so quiet that you can hardly believe youâ€™re still in the city.
Park officials are also ensuring that the natural landscape is well preserved by planting over 75,000 trees. Because of its focus on conservation and authenticity, walking through the park makes you feel like youâ€™re observing a strictly natural place rather than an imitation of one. It should also be mentioned that the grounds are remarkably clean and well-maintained.
A major part of the appeal of The Parklands is the amount of activities it has not just for children but for adults as well. They have partnered with Blue Moon Canoe & Kayak of Kentucky to offer Saturday and Sunday canoe and kayak rentals, giving patrons a great way to get on the water without having to purchase the equipment. Blue Moon offers both solo and tandem boats, and visitors can embark on either half-day or full-day trips.
With such a variety of spaces and activities, guests can truly enjoy the park in all seasons. In the spring, try bird-watching and witness a variety of species as they migrate. During the hot summer months, go fishing or wading in Floyds Fork. And when the weather cools down, check out the fall foliage by taking a hike or bike ride on the trails.
For a more hands-on experience, Martin recommends the interpretive hike series led by the knowledgeable park rangers. The rangers guide visitors through the park and teach them about the various types of plant and animal life that can be found not just in the park but in your own backyard. By highlighting the landscape and wildlife that can be seen in the park, the rangers introduce visitors to a whole new world in an already familiar environment.
Dogs are welcome throughout the park as long as they are leashed and their owners clean up after them, and there are many plastic bag stations within the park. There is even an off-leash play area within The Barklands of Beckley Creek, though membership with the Louisville Dog Run Association is required for off-leash use.
Another notable feature of the park is its 19-mile section of the Louisville Loop, a multi-use path that will eventually stretch 100 miles to encircle the city and connect its various neighborhoods and attractions. The path is non-motorized, but it is bike-friendly and wheelchair accessible according to ADA standards. While the city of Louisville is currently working on the remaining 81 miles of the loop, the Parklandsâ€™ section is finished and ready for patrons to use.
Additionally, one of the parkâ€™s biggest selling points is its authenticity. â€œThe Parklands doesnâ€™t attempt to be like anything else in the nation,â€ Martin contends. â€œThe natural landscape and the animals that live here are all native to Kentucky, and they conspire to produce something that is unique nationally. We donâ€™t need to copy other urban parks because we have such a beautiful setting right here.â€
The Parklands has already had over 800,000 visits this year alone and is expected to reach about 2 million visits in 2016. If the park achieves this milestone, it will become one of the top 50 most visited urban parks in America. This achievement is all the more impressive because the free public park has been almost completely finished in just a few years and is totally donor-funded. The park does not receive any tax dollars for operations and is all made possible by the generosity of donors.
Martin emphasizes that a park this massive and successful could only succeed in a city like Louisville â€“ a city that genuinely appreciates the outdoors.
â€œLouisville values its parks and cherishes them like no other city,â€ he says. â€œLouisville led the nation in terms of urban parks in conservation in the 1890s with the Olmsted system, and now with the success of The Parklands, lightning has struck twice.â€
Whether youâ€™re someone who loves the outdoors, or someone â€“ like me â€“ who enjoys them in small doses, The Parklands at Floyds Fork is the perfect park experience, and thereâ€™s no time like the summer to take advantage of all it has to offer. Louisville is beyond fortunate to have such an exceptional park within the limits of our already great city, and with a gorgeous landscape, abundant activities and plenty of space to explore, you will never run out of ways to enjoy this majestic park. VT
By MARIAH KLINE | Photos courtesy of THE PARKLANDS