By Michael Gaige
1937 was an important year. There was, of course, Louisville’s great Ohio River Flood, that swamped much of the city (this was also the second greatest flood on Floyds Fork). In that year our area had its first set of aerial photographs taken. With the official opening of the northern portion of Beckley Creek Park next month, it’s a perfect time to step back and see how the landscape has changed, and not changed, over the past 75 years.
Here are three map images taken in 1937, 1960, and 2010. All three capture the same area—northern Beckley Creek Park (specifically William F. Miles Lakes and the current MSD Floyds Fork Water Quality Treatment Center). The red line shows the approximate Parklands/MSD boundaries with adjoining properties. Floyds Fork is shown in blue. Shelbyville Road is seen at the top (north) and I-64 makes its appearance after 1966.
Perhaps the most striking feature of this landscape today is the lakes. Built over time in the 1950s, they show up clearly in the 1960 image. But look closely; there are nine lakes or ponds that year, four more than occur today (the 2010 image). In 1937 there were no lakes, as those drainages were woods and fields. Can you find all nine lakes in 1960?
Standing out sharply in the 2010 image is Blue Heron Drive (MSD access road), soon to be renamed Beckley Creek Parkway everywhere but the MSD driveway portion. Today the park road continues on past MSD to the Egg Lawn and Creekside Center. Looking back to 1960, the same travel route existed over the ridge and along the dams of lakes but then it was a tractor trail. Look closely along Floyds Fork below the lakes and you can see an old farm road along the stream. Today this is the site of the newly installed Louisville Loop. In 1937 it seems the landscape was a much quieter place—few tracks and trails show up.
Infrastructure surrounding The Parklands has also become busier over the years. In 1937 only four farm houses show up (can you find them?) and little changed going to 1960. But by 2010 there are many houses, the English Station Golf Course, and a much wider Shelbyville Road, not to mention I-64.
Another striking aspect of the landscape is how little it has changed. The riparian area—that strip of trees immediately adjacent to the steam—is as narrow today as it was in 1937, generally about one or two trees deep. Riparian areas are important for stream bank stabilization and wildlife. The Floyds Fork stream channel has moved little in 75 years. Streams naturally move about the floodplain over the long-term, but since 1937, the Fork has been locked in place at this site.
The sameness of the borders of field and forest is remarkable. How those particular boundaries were determined and what compelled the farmer(s) to keep them that way are intriguing thoughts to consider. Many hedgerows (upper right and bottom center) in the 1960 image are largely in place in both 1937 and 2010. Go walk these—a great example occurs along the bottom of the hill of the Louisville Loop in William F. Miles Lakes stretching out toward the paddling access. Some of these trees are well over 100 years old, some may approach 200.
Even individual trees can be picked out on the image around William F. Miles Lakes, especially in the photo from 1960. When compared to the 2010 image, the same individual trees are clear. Going back to the 1937 image some trees can be made out. When you walk there, see which trees you can find from the images.
The forested area in the center (between the lakes and MSD plant) has been forested since before 1937. The Coppiced Woods show that it has been forested since the late 1700s, which suggests it was never opened to agriculture. This forest, which is the best oak-hickory woods in The Parklands, is now traversed by the Coppiced Woods Trail. You can read more about coppiced trees here.
In the lower left corner, to the left of the MSD plant, you’ll see a long bend of Floyds Fork called The Oxbow. Notice in earlier days this bottomland was a plowed field (1937, 1960). But in the 2010 image you can see forest plants steadily creeping in from the riparian edges. This process is calledsuccession—the semi-predictable growth of plants on a site following disturbance (an opening). In this case, the disturbance was the farm field. Today the Louisville Loop and the park road traverse the edge of this area. You can watch over time the natural emergence of forest where once there was none.
With our look at the past, we must ponder the future. The year 2037, 25 years from now, will mark 100 years since the first photos were taken. What differences will occur with the lakes, the travel corridors, the surrounding infrastructure, and the vegetation? 21st Century Parks has put together a natural areas management plan that addresses some of this last part. In addition to the already built infrastructure such as the Louisville Loop, etc., the 2037 photo will show increasing forest cover between the two largest lakes; continued natural reforesting of the Oxbow; and increased riparian area forest in the north (upper left). Undoubtedly, the similarities from 1937 will remain striking.
Spend some time examining the subtle differences in these time-traveling photos. Better yet, take a walk in the soon-to-be-open Beckley Creek Park and see them for yourself.
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