On a puppy-dog-warm day in late December, a little kid sat on a park bench along The Strand, Floyds Fork sliding past below, the winter-bare trees above, the waiting fields in the distance, and, without looking away from all that, said to his father seated next to him….
Hold on. Let’s wait before revealing what the kid had to say. Our Parklands day with our grown-up kids began by climbing the 109 steps of the Silo Lookout echo chamber, our footsteps reverberating on metal stairs, a fierce wind singing beneath its curved tin roof.
Spread out below were the Wild Hyacinth Trail, the Paw Paw Trail, the Hickory Trail and a guy walking a dog about the size of a riding lawn mower. We’d see lots of people walking dogs that day, all sizes and shapes included, and I’m talking about the people, not the dogs.
We headed north in Turkey Run Park past the Ben Stout House, a squat, solid, almost 200-year-old reminder of Kentucky pioneer history writ large in limestone. The house was built on 1,500 acres of native bottomland purchased in 1786 by Squire Maugridge Boone, Jr., the 10th of eleven children, one of Daniel Boone’s much-less-famous brothers.
Squire never lived there. He turned out to be a bust as a land dealer. But from 1813 to 1837, some 15 children of Daniel and Martha Omer were born, or lived, in that stone house. Too bad the Parklands wasn’t around for them then.
We moved on to Sky Meadow – which would be a great name for a Kentucky Derby favorite – toward Seaton Valley, with its legacy of a forgotten village, failed golf courses, a long-gone covered bridge, old horse trails and dead people named Seaton.
Ahead was our destination, The Strand, the connective, wandering, wooded-river-bottom link between the four designated parks. It offered a more than six-mile-walk from Seaton Valley north toward John Floyd Fields near Taylorsville Road. Most of its users, we would learn, chose to cover the distance on bicycles. Good choice.
The fields – and the fork itself – were named for long-forgotten, pioneer surveyor John Floyd, who was killed by the true Native Americans in 1783 as the outsiders moved in on their property. Who could blame them?
Modern-day Parklands visitors kick soccer balls all over those fields now. It also has a “fitness circle” almost a mile long. It’s hard to know what John Floyd would think of all that.
We began our walk along The Strand at Seatonville Road. The cement trail is mostly flat, with bikers and hikers passing in practiced détente. Verbal warnings were the norm, nicely offered: “Passing on the left.”
Ahead lay an environmentalist’s menu of carefully named places: Mussel Bend, The Palisades, Walnut Grove and Catfish Bend. Beyond that was The Ascent – which sounded both welcoming and a bit foreboding. The Ascent from where to what?
There is not a lot of human clutter along The Strand. Herons, turtles and deer live here. Bass, bluegill and stocked trout swim below. The fork curls, zigs and zags along woods, field and farm. Part of the trail, bordered in black fencing, nearly touches clipped fields of corn stubble.
Other parts, more cloistered and secret, dip down to the edge of Floyds Fork. There are a few nearby houses. The ghosts of old cemeteries and forgotten farm families can be heard if you believe in such things. Live children can be heard playing in the distance. None of it speaks to being in Louisville.
The river’s volatility is apparent in those areas. The tangle of broken limbs, the twists of leafy debris are spread out in flood-washed swaths along its shore. The gray-white patches of sycamore bark rule here, rising above the dull decay of earth into blue patches of sky.
Entire families ride past on their bikes. They greet me with a nodding head, the quick wave of a hand. Some of the smaller bikers look to be riding their Christmas presents. A few are on tiny scooters, pushing furiously with one foot to keep up with their elders. They pass quickly, then are gone – replaced with welcome silence. I never turn around to verify their existence.
Black hulls of acorns and walnuts had fallen to the ground beneath bare, knotty limbs. There are leafy squirrel nests in tight crotches high above, but none are home to the flying variety.
Orange and black woolly worms slink and dawdle across the trail. I later go to the usually reliable GOOGLE to get an estimated speed of their progress. Woolly worm speed is not mentioned there. My best guess, judging by their survivability, would be “fast enough.” I’m also wondering if they’re not out seeking atonement for a late December weather forecast that didn’t include 76 degrees.
Here comes a bare-chested jogger, oblivious to his surroundings, nearly naked in thin shorts and shoes. More worried about time and distance, he doesn’t even bother to nod.
The Strand, it must be noted, is part of the someday 100-mile Louisville Loop around the city. It’s mileage numbers of same are posted at regular intervals along the trail. I hadn’t walked even six miles in a long time. Those markers seemed to be getting further and further apart.
The arching, bare-metal bridges are delicious stopping places along The Strand. You can pause on them without guilt, look for turtles, hear the gurgle of the water across flat rocks, listen in on the conversations of people who pull up next to you on their bicycles – and wonder why you didn’t rent a bicycle.
As it turned out, The Ascent wasn’t all that much up. The adjoining sod farm is interesting in an I-wonder-where-all-that-grass-is-going sort of way. Old Heady Road, which falls down a steep hill toward Floyds Fork, dead ends at the sod farm. Back in the day you could ford Floyds Fork there. But so much has changed since back in the day.
Next up are those long, rustic interconnecting bridges over Floyds Fork where a mudslide took away the hillside. That’s where the little kid sat on the bench with his dad, looking out over the waiting fields, ready to say something.
He was proceeded by another kid, this one a little older, who had ridden on ahead of his family on his bicycle. He was friendly and polite, and said “Goodbye” as he peddled off when his family caught up.
Next was a woman who paused to rest as other family members peddled on ahead. We began talking about The Parklands, her joy in its existence. She moved on to the new works offered at the renovated Speed Art Museum, her happiness in variety at the Frazier History Museum, the arty things Chicago had to offer, and her visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
All that travel while sitting on a bench in the Parklands.
The little kid and his father showed up on foot after The Museum Lady left. He played for a while with an older brother on those curious steps to nowhere on the hill above the bench, then sat down beside him.
Looking straight ahead, he told his dad he didn’t want to go home. He said he wanted his dad to build a new house right there. In The Parklands. With all those trees and water and fields.
Mission impossible, his dad explained. But three good reasons to come back.
Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.
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