Louisville is well known for its parks designed in the late 1890s by Frederick Law Olmsted. More than a hundred years later, the city is enjoying a new urban park system, the Parklands of Floyds Fork.
The 4,000-acre park, developed by the nonprofit 21st Century Parks, stretches 20 miles in length following the banks of Floyds Fork. Three million visitors are expected each year. Planners believe it is the largest, fully funded urban park system currently under construction in the nation.
“We think of ourselves as a gateway park,” said parks director Scott Martin. “A lot of folks who are going to experience the outdoors for the first time may do so in this park. And what we’re trying to do is provide a world-class gateway for them to get outdoors, get active, and have a good time.”
The fork, a small tributary of the Salt River, is named for an early settler, John Floyd. Wildlife in the park includes bobcats, coyotes, sandhill cranes, indigo buntings, and white-tailed deer.
“What we’re trying to do, which we think is unique nationally, actually, is develop and manage a mosaic of landscapes that are found in this region, because the wildlife are going to be more and more dependent on them.”
Martin said it’s easy to take the ecosystems in the Bluegrass region for granted. “The variety of wildlife, the variety of green can be nearly overwhelming,” he said. “And our park’s job is to awaken the senses, so you can experience it in new ways and understand it in new ways. … What we’re really trying to hold on to is a landscape, a visitor experience, a habitat, that does nothing but get better and better, year after year.”
The park is divided into four mini-parks, each named after a tributary of Floyds Fork.
Beckley Creek Park: This northernmost park is designed to be people friendly, with soccer fields, football fields, and playgrounds. The park also has a Festival Promenade for farmers’ markets and other vendor events. Gheens Foundation Lodge is a formal indoor/outdoor venue, offering a view of Floyds Fork.
The PNC Achievement Center for Education and Interpretation, located in Beckley, offers learning space. “What we do a little different is that we are a STEM center,” said Martin. “We teach science, technology, engineering and math. We are not a nature center. Nature is the tool by which we teach things.”
The Humana Grand Alle (pronounced al-ay) features wetlands. “It’s a great place to come and see wildlife–be it in the spring for salamanders and the spring peepers, in the summer for the frogs, and even in the winter when the migratory waterfowl come through,” Martin said.
Pope Lick Park: Soccer fields are located here, as well as a state nature preserve, the Prairie Preserve. “We have an extraordinary landscape,” Martin said. “It offers some unique experiences: things like birding, hiking—20 minutes from the downtown of a U.S. metropolitan area.”
Turkey Run Park: The largest of the mini-parks, at 1,100 acres, Turkey Run is an outdoor adventure park. “So it has a lot of hiking. It takes you deep into the woods, very hilly topography,” said Martin.
The converted farm silo at the Brown-Forman Silo Center provides a view of the surrounding landscape. “If we’re doing our job right, in a hundred years folks in Louisville will have the same experience and the same view that we’re enjoying today.”
Broad Run Park: “It has a balance of recreation and conservation,” said Martin. The largest wetlands in the Parklands are located here. Recreation will include a “spray ground” water feature and playground. Broad Run is scheduled to open on April 15, 2016.
Note: The Strand, opening in spring 2016, connects the northern and southern parks. It will be accessible by the Louisville Loop in South Pope Lick Park near the Prairie Preserve. It will connect with Turkey Run Park at Seatonville Road.