WRT: The Parklands of Floyds Fork is a 20–mile, 4,000-acre, systemic world-class addition to the Louisville Park System. The Parklands includes four major parks—Beckley Creek Park, Pope Lick Park, Turkey Run Park, and Broad Run Park. These four parks are linked by a park drive, a first-rate urban trail system, and a remarkable water trail, all tracing Floyds Fork, a classic Kentucky stream. This public/private project is unique in the region and unlike anything currently in development across the country.
The Parklands is rooted in Louisville’s century-old legacy of open spaces designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the 1890’s – the Louisville Park System. Olmsted created a series of parks and parkways on lands beyond the center of town. As the city grew around these parks in the twentieth century, they came to exemplify Olmsted’s vision of “bringing nature into the neighborhoods.” Now more than 100 years later, The Parklands functions as a green infrastructural framework to proactively use open space as an agent in shaping future development in Louisville’s eastward expanding population on a regional scale. The non-profit organization, 21st Century Parks, has purchased nearly 4,000 acres of land (through 80 separate real estate transactions) to create The Parklands and applied legal protections that assure public access and use in perpetuity.
21st Century Parks strategically partnered with the land trust, Future Fund, and Louisville Metro to secure the land for the park. The cost of park development and land acquisitions for The Parklands totaled $125 million, and was paid for by a capital campaign. More than $60 million was donated by private individuals, corporations, and foundations with the rest of the funding coming from the public sector. Annual operations of The Parklands are funded by community contributions and an endowment established and managed by 21st Century Parks.
Developed largely from scratch from a combination of farmland, undevelopable slopes and wet bottomlands, the landscape is notable in its magnitude and undeveloped state. Three strategies organize The Parklands’ concept: 1) – Framework shapes the spatial context of the park, including preservation and restoration of the forest, meadows, wetlands, and watercourses; 2) The connectivity component includes Floyds Fork itself, the park roadways, the Louisville Loop Regional Multi-use Trail, the bridges, and other paths that provide access through an immersive natural experience; 3) The theatrical component includes development with an ecological and recreational focus, providing distinctive places for people to gather and play.
The design team developed a formal design language that emanated from the site – a Floyds Fork vernacular – “Florknacular.” The kinetic shapes of the pathways, plantings, and buildings reflect the fluid action of water. Into this sinuous systems of passages are inserted numerous trailheads and gathering spaces, along with two geometrically contrasting features, the Egg Lawn and the Grand Allee.
The design and materials reflect the heritage of the Kentucky bluegrass region which creates a distinctive local identity tuned to the spirit of the place. Limestone was used extensively throughout the park in the iconic “Leaping bridges” and dry-laid rock fences. The family of site structures was constructed from ebony stained cedar siding with yellow pine interiors that recall the imagery of the once prevalent tobacco barns in the region. The Louisville Loop paving material reveals the floodplain datum by using asphalt outside and concrete inside the floodplain forming a memorable white line in the landscape paralleling the Fork. Over 100 species of trees, 50 species of shrubs, 175 species of perennials /groundcovers and 90 species of grasses were specified to form the middle ground between forest and buildings.
Construction was completed in 2016 and visitor attendance rose to 2.6 million making the Parklands one of the top 50 urban parks in the nation. Last year 14,000 students had an outdoor classroom experience, over 11,000 hours of time were invested by volunteers, and the 20-mile stretch of Floyds Fork in the Parklands became the most paddled stream in Kentucky. To date over 70,000 trees have been planted in the park and The Parklands have become home to federally endangered flora and fauna. Louisville Metro has recently issued planning RFP’s for the developing areas adjacent to the Parklands, illustrating the impact that parks can have as city shaping generators.
Project Name: The Parklands of Floyds Fork
Client: 21st Century Parks, Inc.
Landscape Architecture: WRT
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Design Firm: WRT
Design Year(s): 2006 – 2015
Year of Construction: 2010 – 2016