On this Friday, September 30th, The Parklands of Floyds Fork will open The Strand, the final connection in the nearly 20-mile-long addition to Louisville’s public park system. The long-awaited amenity in The Strand is the final link for The Parklands’ section of The Louisville Loop, a 19.5-mile freestanding multi-use recreational path that begins at Shelbyville Road in the north, and ends at Bardstown Road in the south. The unique design of The Parklands—20% greenway, 80% Olmstedian park system—melds together an unfolding series of park amenities and outdoor, recreational experiences that are truly unique in the world of 21st Century city parks, and most importantly, are accessible to all.
One of the best ways to experience the totality of The Parklands is to ride the Louisville Loop, which epitomizes Olmsted’s dictum that a great urban park should be an “unfolding series of experiences.” Designed to include many of The Parklands’ key natural and built amenities, the route is also a hybrid between an exercise course (be ready to burn some calories!) and a park itinerary that artfully wends its way past energetic recreational spaces (the Cliffside Playground in Broad Run Park), quiet natural spaces (The Strand), iconic park amenities (The Silo Overlook in Turkey Run Park), historic structures (the Pope Lick Trestle), and woodlands, hills, and meadows.
Last week, I took a “sneak peek” ride of the new section in The Strand, as part of a two-day endeavor to ride the full 39-mile round trip on both a road bike and a hybrid bike. Starting at Miles Trailhead in Beckley Creek Park, the bike path starts easily, with a fun downhill and a hairpin turn to bring you into the broad valley of Floyds Fork. Stop at the North Beckley Paddling Access to check out Floyds Fork. The defining geographic feature of The Parklands, Floyds Forks’ meanders are both an incredible environmental and recreational resource. Kentucky has the third most biodiversity in its freshwater fish populations of all fifty states, and globally significant populations of crayfish, salamanders, and freshwater mussels, all of which can be found in and around The Fork. It is also a great fishing spot—for wading or kayak fishing—and one of the few paddling trails located just 20 minutes from the downtown of a Top 50 metropolitan area.
The Loop continues south under I-64 and past the Egg Lawn and Creekside Center, a great place for a water or bathroom break. While here, check out the PNC Achievement Center: The Parklands’ welcome center.Located there is a fun place to learn about the scope and vision of The Parklands, as well as the many natural and historic amenities found within our boundaries. From there it’s a nice flat couple of miles until you reach Distillery Bend (named for Grosscurth Distillery, which burned down in the 1960s) and the first big hill that you climb as you exit Beckley Creek Park to the south. The downhill that follows takes you into your first forested section, and after a couple of hairpin turns (please slow down and watch for hikers!) you will follow South Pope Lick Road under the Norfolk Southern Trestle, one of the most iconic historic elements along the Loop. A quick passage under Taylorsville Road and you enter Pope Lick Park, another place for bathrooms and water.
Continuing south from here you cross the first of four bike bridges as you enter Prairie Preserve (a large meadow of native grasses managed by our Natural Areas team through a variety of methods including controlled burns). The hills above Prairie Preserve are home to the Big Beech Woods, the oldest forest in Jefferson County. From here you pass south into The Strand. This newest section connects the two northern parks of The Parklands (Beckley Creek Park and Pope Lick Park) with the two southern parks (Turkey Run Park and Broad Run Park), but it is also a special place on its own. While it is sometimes quite narrow, it passes through some of the prettiest, and most iconic areas of The Parklands, and also provides a uniquely quiet experience (there are no roads nearby) for walkers, runners, and bikers. You will cross three more bridges, pass through a genuinely rural farm landscape, pass The Palisades and Mussel Bend, before arriving at Seatonville Road and the Seaton Valley Trailhead.
Quick note: the two best ways to enter The Strand if you are not planning on a long bike ride from one of the other parks, is to park at either John Floyd Fields in Pope Lick Park in the north, or Seaton Valley Trailhead in Turkey Run Park to the south. Either provides quick access to the roughly 4.5 miles (one way) length of The Strand. If you are looking for a long, flat ride, this is your place. The journey from John Floyd Fields through The Strand to the base of the first hill in Turkey Run provides an approximately 12-14 mile round trip that is the longest, flattest section of the Louisville Loop.
Turkey Run brings you into the rolling hills of the southern Parklands. While the hills follow a relatively gentle gradient (maximum of 5% grade), there are two large hills in Turkey Run, and another long hill in Broad Run Park. The southern Parklands is rolling, and the bike path takes you through several large forested areas. It also provides a number of great stopping points. Climb the Silo Overlook at Brown-Forman Silo Center, stop at the Limestone Gorge bridge, or the Big Vista Overlook in Broad Run Park. You will wind past the future site of the Woodland Garden in Broad Run Park before passing the Cliffside Center and coming to the southern end of The Parklands at Cliffside Paddling Access. If you are ambitious, turn around and head back north for a 39 mile round trip!
A few practical thoughts: Because of the winding nature of the Louisville Loop within The Parklands, you may not bike as quickly as you would on a road. It took me about 3 hours and 45 minutes to bike it round trip. This number is time clocked on the bike. The total time, with climbs up the silo and forays down to the creek, stops for photos, etc, was about 5 hours. While there are some water fountains along the way, you should bring lots of water, apply sunscreen, bug spray, etc. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you are going as some sections are remote. The Shell gas station on Taylorsville Road right by the Loop is the only place to purchase food and drink along the route. Be careful, be respectful of your fellow Loop Travelers, and have fun!
A native of Louisville, Kentucky, Dan holds degrees from Yale University (B.A., M.F.) and Indiana University, Bloomington (Ph.D.). He has spent much of his working life in the fields of education and business management. In addition to founding and managing his own business, he taught World History and the History of the American West at the University of Louisville, and most recently, an Honors Seminar entitled “Reading the Natural Landscape.” In 2004, he founded 21st Century Parks, Inc. a nonprofit corporation created to bring fresh vision to the development and preservation of new public parklands. Their current project, The Parklands of Floyds Fork, is one of the largest new metropolitan parks projects in the country: almost 4000 acres of new, donor-supported public park system in the last major undeveloped section of Metro Louisville. Dan is the founder of 21st Century Parks/The Parklands and currently serves as the Board Chair, where he oversees fundraising, planning, design, construction, and operations of the new parks. He is married, with four children, and enjoys hiking, camping and fishing with his family, skiing, running, and reading.
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