One of the first things that those visiting from out of town notice about Louisville is the amount of greenery. Everywhere you look, there are trees upon trees, varied and numerous. While it is true that these arboreal wonders are a prominent factor in the Ohio River Valleyâ€™s notoriously bad allergy season, they are also a blessing, which is perhaps why Metro Louisville has one of the most robust parks systems in the country.
First setting things in motion for the city and the breathtaking parks that it has to offer was a project called Cornerstone 2020, led by County Judge Executive David Armstrong and over 600 dedicated citizens. This movement began in 1993, and when Louisville merged with Jefferson County in 2003, Mayor Jerry Abramson furthered the initiative. Finally, in 2011, Mayor Greg Fischer solidified the plan into a 25-year vision for Louisville that is now called the Louisville Loop.
The overall Loop initiative is to build an approximately 100-mile path system for pedestrians and cyclists â€“ and in some areas for equestrians â€“ around the perimeter of Louisville. About 50 miles are now constructed and open to the public â€“ or will be this summer. This path system will and does include soft surface trails, on-road bike lanes, stream corridors, the original Olmsted Parkways, greenways and transit routes.
The Louisville Loop is a truly transformative project for Louisville, and it will afford the city an unprecedented integrated transportation system that will be the envy of cities across the nation. According to Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation Senior Planner Lisa Hite, the Loop celebrates Louisvilleâ€™s history and natural world through public art, complementing special places in the city: â€œThe intent of the Loop is to leverage the impact of the original Olmsted Park System and to help shape the future experience of our community.â€
The Loop encompasses many different projects and a number of partners who are building various parts of it. Metro Parks and Recreation is the lead agency for planning, design and building most of the Loop, and the current state of affairs regarding the overall projects seems to indicate full steam ahead.
As of this article, six and a half miles are currently being designed through Jefferson Memorial Forest. About half a mile of construction will begin this year along Shelbyville Road from Middletown to The Parklands, with another three miles to follow in the next year or two. Three and a half miles of Campground Road will be adding a shared-use path to the already existing bike lanes, and serious planning sessions are currently underway for projects that will eventually connect the Big Four Bridge to Prospect as well as a connection for Beargrass Creek Trail to the rest of the Loop.
In addition, Metro Parks is partnering with several outside agencies for other aspects of the initiative, such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reconstruct a section of existing paths along the Ohio River near Portland Wharf and Shawnee Parks. 21st Century Parks will also open the last of their 18 miles of their Parklands of Floyds Fork projects this summer, and Metro Public Works is incorporating some segments of the Loop into road projects such as a widening of River Road from Beargrass Creek to Zorn and Cooper Chapel Road from Beulah Church Road to Bardstown Road.
If you are looking for suggestions as to where to access the Loop currently and what to expect, Hite offers some insight: â€œI advise that you experience the Loop on a bike to cover more ground. For a more urban experience, start at the Big Four Bridge, go west and follow the signs through Waterfront Park.â€ Alternatively, Hite offers some recommendations for a more rural ambiance as well: â€œStart at Beckley Creek Park off Shelbyville Road and ride south for as long as you want up to about 18 or 19 miles. There are lovely views of woodland, farm fields, wetlands and numerous crossings of Floyds Fork.â€
The scale of this project is gargantuan. So much so that it seems that it may never be completed. The proposed date of 2036 is a long way away, but the fact of the matter is that slowly but surely, Louisville will have a unique parks system unlike any other. Once completed, most of Louisville will be within one mile of some portion of the loop, giving citizens a singular connectivity not only with nature but with each other. VT
For more information and a complete map of the 100-mile trail system, visit louisvilleky.gov/government/louisville-loop or call 502.574.7275.