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Louisville Plans 'City Of Parks'

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Officials map out park growth

By Chris Poynter

cpoynter@courier-journal.com

The Courier-Journal

A 100-mile hiking and biking trail encircling Jefferson County.

Three to four new parks, each the size of the 400-acre Cherokee Park, constructed along Floyds Fork.

A large expansion of the 5,500-acre Jefferson Memorial Forest.

The cost: $20 million -- just for starters.

It's all part of an ambitious, 15-year plan to upgrade Louisville's park system and expand it into the suburbs, Mayor Jerry Abramson and civic leaders said yesterday.

The "City of Parks" initiative would create thousands of acres of parks and paths outside the Watterson Expressway, in areas where land rapidly is being developed into subdivisions and shopping centers.

"We have a narrow window of opportunity to protect this land," Abramson said, announcing the plan to applause at the Kentucky International Convention Center downtown.

Relying upon private donations and local and federal funding, the project would form "a contiguous ring of green," Abramson said.

So far, $9 million in private donations, including $5 million from Humana Inc. co-founder David Jones, has been pledged.

The expansion would involve the acquisition of land in several neighborhoods -- from Glenview and Anchorage in the east, to unincorporated areas of Jefferson County in the southeast, to Kosmosdale and Valley Village in the southwest.

But the metro government won't use its condemnation powers to acquire land from unwilling sellers, Abramson promised. If owners aren't interested in selling or granting an easement, the route simply will go around their property.

The first phase involves a 27-mile stretch in the Floyds Fork corridor, from Shelbyville Road to near McNeely Lake Park.

Three or four new parks would be created along that stretch, each connected by bike and pedestrian paths. The exact locations of the parks have not been determined and will depend on acquiring adjoining land, Abramson said.

The cost of acquiring the land will be $20 million, and officials said they don't know how much the parks will cost to create.

Louisville has been able to purchase, already owns or has options on almost 3,000 acres along Floyds Fork because of donations and land controlled by a nonprofit group called the Future Fund, created 12 years ago to buy land along the creek to protect it from development.

Steve Henry, a former lieutenant governor, said yesterday that the property Future Fund owns -- or controls through conservation easements -- would be part of the parks expansion plan.

To help pay for the project, Jones, whose family donated $5 million, will oversee fund raising through a new nonprofit organization, 21st Century Parks.

Other donations announced yesterday include $3 million from the J. Graham Brown Foundation and $1 million from Sara Shallenberger Brown, whose family controls the Brown-Forman liquor corporation.

In addition, Abramson said he would propose to the Metro Council that the government budget $1 million to $2 million a year during the next several years.

Abramson said he has briefed U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Rep. Anne Northup, R-3rd District, and asked them to help find federal money for the project.

Northup said last night through her chief of staff, Terry Carmack: "I am always interested in trying to partner with community leaders on projects where the private and public sectors can work together for Louisville."

Both Republicans and Democrats on the council said they like what they have heard about the plan.

"I think adding more parks is a good idea," said George Unseld, D-6th. "God makes more people, but he doesn't make more land. We need to preserve everything that we can now."

But if Abramson comes asking for money for the plan, Unseld said council members will ask questions about what he is doing to improve existing parks.

Councilman James Peden, R-23rd, said the plan addresses the problems of suburban districts that suffer from "a distinct lack of parks."

"I only wish it had happened a few years earlier before a lot of the good and centrally located spots were taken," he said.

Mary Lou Northern -- Abramson's cabinet secretary for neighborhoods, parks and cultural affairs -- said work is under way to determine how many more employees and how much more money Metro Parks would need to manage the new system while maintaining its current 122 parks.

The 100-mile path that is part of the initiative, tentatively called the Metro Loop, would start along upper River Road, traveling east to connect to the Floyds Fork corridor.

It would pass through the Heritage Creek subdivision and McNeely Lake Park and proceed along the county border, into Jefferson Memorial Forest.

From there it would head toward the Ohio River and upriver to western Louisville. Both ends of the Metro Loop would connect with the RiverWalk, meaning that eventually someone could walk or bike around the county.

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