Robbie Valentine – a summertime fixture at Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation

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By Walter Munday
Metro Parks and Recreation Outreach Manager
contact Walter

Over the summer break, thousands of kids throughout the city will participate hundreds of camps including a wide variety of sports camps aimed at keeping kids more physically active and learning new sports skills.  From soccer to baseball, from lacrosse to volleyball and Golf, thousands of kids will enjoy the fun and the instructional benefits.

Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation has joined countless other organizations including JCPS, the Louisville Free Public Library, Metro United Way and others of going a step further by developing an coordinated Out of School Time (OST) schedule that not only includes the summer break, but also winter/holiday and spring break OST activities and programs.

According to BLOCS, a system created locally from a partnership with education, government and community impact organizations,

“The correlation between out-of-school time and youth success is undeniable. Studies show that youth who attend out-of-school time programs are 12% less likely to drop out of school compared to their peers who don’t participate. And quality out-of-school time programs are universally recognized as critical tool to help students graduate on time – contributing positively to key performance indicators such as attendance, engagement in learning, test scores and grades. With an estimated 1,200 students in Louisville alone predicted to drop out of school this year, and 44% of children in Kentucky indicating they would attend an out-of-school time program if one were available, the need and value is obvious.

BLOCS’ goals are to set quality standards or out-of –school time programs, inciting participation by out-of-school time program providers, and motivating out-of-school time program providers strive.

One of the partnerships that Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation established is with Robbie Valentine’s Basketball Camps.

The Robbie Valentine Basketball Summer Camp is a youth summer camp for boys and girls, ages 6-16 that emphasizes individual instruction in all phases of the game. Campers can expect to learn the key fundamentals of being a better basketball player in areas including defense, shooting, passing, ball handling, team work, and leadership.

Valentine brings in current and former players & coaches such as Denny Crum, Rick Pitino, Milt Wagner, Tony Branch, Jack Givens, and others.  RV2

Valentine, a former U of L basketball player and a successful product of a single parent household in Hardin County, has been hosting basketball camps for more than 30 years.  He began working with Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation in an attempt to reach inner city youth who may not have a father at home.

“The mentors I had growing up changed my life.  They taught me I could achieve.   I’m inspired to give back to others as others gave back to me”, said Valentine.

The camps promote the importance of education and its connection to athletic success. Valentine goes further by implementing some key rules at all of his camps

“He always starts out (by saying), ‘Tuck in your shirts, tie your shoes, pull up your shorts because the image you present is how people are going to perceive you,” Ben Johnson said.  Johnson an Assistant Director overseeing Louisville Metro Parks’ Recreation Division.

Valentine tells campers at the onset that his camps are just as much about developing successful young men and women in the classroom as they are about improving their skills on the court.  He gives them the option of leaving the camp if they refuse to comply.

Since 2014, Louisville Metro Park & Recreation has had hundreds of kids from several of the community centers including Baxter, California, Parkhill, Portland, South Louisville and others attend the camps.

“Our ultimate goal is to keep kids involved in a positive, safe and nurturing environment,” said Johnson.

Parks Employee Defines Family

All too often, the boundaries between work and home often overlap due to increased demands at work. Many often reference their coworkers as their second family. But to one veteran Metro Parks & Recreation employee, he chooses to refer to his colleagues as his primary family, and he is quick to explain why.

Meet Nate Cole, Park Worker II, Vettiner Maintenance District. Nate joined Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation in April of 2002 as a seasonal. Later that year he accepted a full-time position. He’s worked in the Forestry and three different Maintenance divisions (Highview, Sawyer & Vettiner).

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“Nate wears many hats. He’s a jack of all trades that has been beneficial to the department and metro neighborhoods…no matter the zip code. His work skills transition to his home and neighborhoods,” said Jacky Gardner-Sparrow, Park Administrator.

In addition to his Park Worker II duties, Nate was the Union Representative from 2011-2014, and served on the Executive Board. After a couple years off, Nate has resumed his union rep duties.

Nate grew up off Grade Lane, but quickly adopted the George Rogers Clark neighborhood as his “hood”. From as far back as age 12, Nate‘s father would transport the family from their south end home to the park every weekend to play in the park.

“It seems like we’d be at the park all day playing basketball, splashing around in the old pool, and just hanging out,” Nate said while reminiscing about his teen years.

Ironically, Nate now lives with his father directly across the street from that very same park – George Rogers Clark Park on Thurston Avenue. Jacky pointed out that Nate often says, “I want the parks to look good because I live there.”

When asked what he loved about working for parks & recreation, Nate answered without hesitation “family” with his coworkers. Nate openly acknowledged that he wouldn’t be alive without the help and continuing support from his coworkers.

Several years back, Nate openly admits battling alcoholism. Like most who deal with this illness, it’s nearly impossible to overcome it alone. Nate, who’s been sober since 2007, acknowledge the support from his supervisors (Jacky & Ken Parker), and his coworkers. He said if it hadn’t been for the support from his work family, he wouldn’t have survived the ordeal. Nate talked about several of the guys who helped him, but one person who he acknowledged for their on-going support was Lionel Hamilton.

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“We call him Uncle Lionel because he’s always willing to pull the guys aside; especially the young guys and offer advice. Even off the clock, he’d stop by the house just to see how I was doing. That’s family,” Cole said.

Jacky said that the district crew is like family; the same life and work ethic flows throughout. They eat, work, party and support each other through the good and bad times.

New Neighbors At Cherokee Park

 

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It looks like Cherokee Park has had a number of new visitors lately. According to recent research, a variety of salamanders have started gathering near the spring by Big Rock. Thanks to the dedicated research of Dr. Joseph Bradley from the University of Louisville, who has been studying the behaviors of different species of salamanders.

Along the creek there is a long limestone wall, in which a spring is running out of a small cavity in the rock down to the creek. This spring provides suitable wet habitat for certain species of salamanders. There are many crevices and rocky areas used as refuge to take cover for these critters. This area also provides plenty of food for them as well. There are a number of insects and worms attracted to the area they can chow down on near the spring.

Dusky salamander

(Dusky salamander)

There are four distinct species that have been identified and monitored: Dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus), Cave salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga)Zigzag salamanders (Plethodon dorsalis), and Midland mud salamanders (Pseudotriton montanus). These were all found in or directly around that spring issuing from the limestone wall. On the most active nights, Dr. Bradley found 80-100+ individuals of which the majority were dusky salamanders.

Behavior wise, dusky salamanders are very aggressive, whereas cave salamanders are somewhat passive. Dusky salamanders have also been directly tied to the spring, whereas other species could often be found near the spring, or around the vegetation and the limestone wall. It’s surprising to see so many salamanders due to how frequently people visit the park.

(Cave Salamander)

Cave salamander

Cave salamanders are very good climbers, and thus do well around limestone formations where they can climb into cracks in the wall. However, Zigzag and mud salamanders were only active for a short period of time while researching. All these species are nocturnally active, hiding under cover, in burrows, or in crevices during the day.

Dusky salamanders and zigzag salamanders blend in very well with their environment. They are both some mixture of tan, brown, and gray. Cave and mud salamanders are quite the opposite, both being bright orange to red with black spots; this is “aposematic coloration,” meaning they advertise their bad taste to potential predators.

ZigZag salamander                                                          (Zigzag Salamander)

What all of these species share in common is they are plethodontid salamanders. A major unifying and interesting characteristic of this type of salamander is that they are lungless; gas exchange predominantly occurs across the skin, even though they are terrestrially active.

midland mud salamander

(Midland Mud Salamander)

Evidence has shown with the removal of Bush Honeysuckle, amphibian species numbers should increase over time. This could be due to the fact that honeysuckle is poisonous to a number of animals. There is still so much to learn about our new guests, but in the meantime we are happy to have our new aquatic friends, and they can stay as long as they want.

What’s In A Name

Have you ever wondered while visiting one of your local park, “Where did this park get its name?” A special part of Louisville Metro’s parks is many  of them have been named after prominent members within their community. These are just a few parks that honor the memory of individuals committed to making our city great.

David and Betty Jones

(David and Betty Jones)

Thurman Hutchins Park

In 2004 the 80-acre park was established along River Road by the founder of Humana Inc.; David Jones.

Jones stated, “we feel that this park, with all that it offers the community – and all the children and families and sports teams that will enjoy it – is the best possible use for this land.”

The park’s name is actually in honor of the mothers of both David Jones and Betty Jones; Elsie Thurman Jones and Lillias Hutchins Ashbury.

“Its central location, easy accessibility and wide range of uses makes Thurman Hutchins Park a treasure for us all. David Jones and his family provided Jefferson County a remarkable and lasting gift that will be enjoyed for generations,” stated by the Judge/Executive Jackson.

“We are truly indebted to the Jones family for such a wonderful contribution to this community’s parks,” said Brigid Sullivan, the Metro Parks director at the time. “Without the commitment of the Joneses, we could not have landscaped and equipped the park to the extent that we have.”

A.B. Sawyer

(Albert B. Sawyer Jr.)

A. B. Sawyer Park

Albert B. Sawyer Jr. was was dedicated in helping underprivileged children at the former Ormsby Village children’s home off of Whipps Mill Road.

After his retirement, he continued his work in supporting the youth in Louisville. In 1942 he was responsible for establishing the first Boys Club within the Portland neighborhood.

Sawyer continued his efforts after retirement by working behind the scenes with Jefferson County Public Schools to establish an award-winning  program to combat drug abuse.

He was also a former director of the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army, The Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs of America, Kentucky Farm Bureau, Purebred Livestock Association, and the Kentucky Board of Trade.

In 1985, Sawyer celebrated his 97th Birthday with 350 of his “foster children” gathered from across the country to celebrate and honor the 40 years of service he provided to so many children at Ormsby Village.

The number of baseball fields and playground area at A. B. Sawyer Park shows the enduring ideals of caring for children in a safe environment, that Sawyer believed in.

 

Ginny Reichard Park

On the corner of Wenzel and Franklin streets, a small park went unnamed for a numbers of years.  It wasn’t until 1981 that it was named after Virginia Anne “Ginny” Reichard, who was a neighborhood activist in Butchertown.

She originally grew up in Oldham and Eastern Jefferson County but moved to Butchertown in the late 1960s. Around the same time, she began working for the hearing and speech center at Kentucky Easter Seal Society.

Barbara Banaszynski, a fellow activist described Reichard’s character.

“It seemed like she was always concerned with others. Always working for others.”

Reichard was also involved with a number of neighborhood projects such as Oktoberfest. She even helped purchase the Butchertown house that Thomas Edison once lived in.

“It seemed to me that whenever something needed to be done in Butchertown, Ginny was always on the spot,” Sam Dorsey, the neighborhood Representative at the city’s Neighborhood Development Office explained.

These parks serve as a commemoration to the devoted efforts of these individuals, and will be remembered for years to come. David Jones once said, “Parks can last forever, and this is something we wanted to do for the enjoyment of everyone in Louisville and Jefferson County.”

Growing Community in Our Parks

By Aaron Henry

Louisville has provided such a great opportunity with so many parks to choose from to enjoy. However, with so many different parks, the need for assistance is vital in order to maintain these areas. The volunteer program is a key component to upholding these parks across the city.   

Laura Ryan is the Volunteer Coordinator for the Metro Parks and Recreation department who is dedicated to supporting the Louisville community through the volunteer program. She is responsible for establishing an organized system for people interested in assisting the park development. Effective communication is a key component of her job to insure volunteers understand the needs of maintaining park facilities.

Last year there were over 8,000 volunteers and $1.5 million worth of work put into the parks program by Louisville’s generous citizens. This is a tremendous effort that helps to propel our city forward.

Seventy percent of the volunteers are made up of larger groups that assist with major maintenance issues such as playground repair, repainting benches, golf course maintenance and planting trees. These projects can also be included in the Adopt-A-Park program that allows organizations to coordinate various services projects for a specific park.

A number of the organizations have created their own programs in order to donate their time and effort to help with the Parks. Some of these include Metro United Way,  Humana and Wilderness Louisville. Most Parochial schools also have a required amount of service hours that can be used to aid the Metro Parks and Recreation department.

One of the most popular events is the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Iroquois Park in October. There is a need for 40 volunteers every night through the entire month! This takes a great deal of planning and dedication to create a fun experience for everyone. The event serves as a fundraiser for the non-profit Louisville Metro Parks Foundation, which seeks to make improvements to parks and playgrounds across the city.

There are several opportunities for individuals as well to help out. Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation also provides 15 different Community Centers around the city. These provide the ability to take part in a number of activities just like the parks.

There are several programs including sports teams and tutoring within a safe environment for both youth and families. In order to maintain these programs, there is a substantial need for volunteers as well.

The truth is we are all part of this city and we have the ability and privilege to give back while sharing these areas to benefit one another. Whether you volunteer to pick up trash at a park or coach for a basketball league at a community center. You have the chance to improve Louisville, while impacting other people’s lives.

If you would like to help with any of our parks or centers, please follow the link below to learn more about how to get involved.

https://louisvilleky.gov/government/parks/volunteer-opportunities

You can also email Laura Ryan for more information.

Laura.Ryan@louisvilleky.gov  

 

The Trail Less Travelled

By Aaron Henry

Fairmount Trail

Louisville offers a wide variety parks to choose from, however some of these local treasures can be overlooked because there are so many. Here are two exciting parks just off the beaten path you should explore!

Fairmount Falls Park

A beautiful park tucked away just off of Thixton Lane, Fairmount Falls provides a wonderful terrain to traverse. It’s important to point out that Fairmount is by permit only in order to preserve the natural beauty of the park. In the spring there are a number of wildflowers that grow along the hillside.

As I began my journey along the trail I noticed the moss covered rock formation at the entrance and how it marked the beginning of my adventure. I then reached the crossing of Hidden Creek Lane and I could hear the rushing water of the falls. The trail led right to the edge of the cliff in order to marvel at this spectacular sight.


I then realized that my path continued directly across the stream and stand on top of the falls themselves. I gazed at the vastness of the area, listened to the pounding current and felt the mist upon my face. I carried on along the trail, just off the side of the cliff. It followed a winding path all the way down the hillside and up again.

The land was originally by owned George Weber in 2002. It was originally a part of the Hidden Creek Farms, which is the name of the stream that flows over the falls. The land was purchased with the help of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This purchase also took place around the time of the merger between the Jefferson County and the city of Louisville. Weber wrote about a very interesting plant that grows in this area call Job’s Tears. The previous owner, Mr. Weber wrote a small description of this plant and how he used the bead-like seeds to fashion a teething ring for his little sister, when he was younger. They resemble wooden beads and are often used to make rosary beads.

Caperton Swamp

Caperton Swamp Park

Caperton Swamp is another overlooked park just off of River Road.

The park’s winding trail allows you to journey through the marshy landscape, and loops around a beautiful pond.  In the summer, the pond will dry up and provide a perfect habitat for a number of reptiles and amphibians.

On the other side of the trail you can see the timber has settled in standing water. It is also known as “wet woodlands,” which means the soil is flooded for over half the year. Due to this unique ecosystem, Caperton offers a very different experience than other parks within the city.

Caperton is also known to be a great place to view various species of birds. Over 187 types have been spotted in this area. Personally, on my trip through Caperton, I listened to a melody of bird calls and even spotted two woodpeckers just off the trail.

Another interesting fact is it is a Nature Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. This means there cannot be any form of construction and hunting is not allowed.

This is part of the deed restrict held by the deed owners. The land was acquired with the help of River Fields, Inc. over the course of several years, between 1980 and 1988.

Caperton Arch
One structure did however exist in this area; the Caperton Arch was originally an entrance way onto the Caperton estate. Due to the concern of its condition, it carefully relocated to Mockingbird Gardens on Brownsboro Road in 1990.

So, if you’re feeling adventurous or interested in discovering something new about Louisville, lace up your boots and visit these hidden gems within the city.

 

The Legacy of Olmsted

By Aaron Henry

Those who have lived in Louisville for any amount of time have probably visited, or heard of its Olmsted Parks.

Frederick Law Olmsted, along with his firm and sons John and Frederick Jr, are responsible for the design of 18 parks within the Metro Louisville. The three most visited of the Olmsted parks in Louisville are Shawnee, Cherokee and Iroquois parks.

Olmsted also had a number of other landscaping successes before coming to Kentucky. You may have seen some of his earlier work if you have ever been to Central Park in New York City. What makes these parks so remarkable is Olmsted founded them in 1890’s. The city was a little more than a hundred years old at the time. Quite literally, they were a part of foundational key point of the expansion of the city.


A remarkable fact about Louisville is it consists of five distinctly different Physiographic Regions. Normally a city has only one type of landscape that makes up the entire area. Olmsted saw this as an opportunity to show the natural beauty and diverse terrain through the city by structuring these parks specific locations.


His project planned allowed Shawnee Park was designed along the Riverine landscape beside the Ohio River. This unique location has developed natural aquifers that produce fresh water by saturation water from the river through the ground. Iroquois Park displays how the Knobs create steep mounds formed on a bedrock of silt. This makes the ground soft and easily erodible. Most likely the most recognized Park is Cherokee with spectacular rolling Outer Bluegrass region provides rolling hills and dense forestry.


On top of developing these parks, Olmsted also devised a way for people to access each of them no matter where they were in the city through various Parkways. Algonquin, Northwestern and Southwestern Parkways provide access to Shawnee Park, while Southern Parkway leads towards Iroquois Park.


There’s also Eastern and Cherokee Parkway that connect with Cherokee Park. The Parkways were strategically built to connect at a central point. This focal point converge around the Belknap campus of the University of Louisville. At the time, these roadways gave people the ability to travel across the city from opposite sides.

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Understanding how these parks function together allows you to see the ideals Olmsted wanted to express within the city. They provide a sense of the diversity and community within Louisville and how it can be shared for generations. This is why it’s important to preserve our parks.


Every park gives an opportunity for people to come together and witness the beauty of nature without having to leave the city. It’s been said before, but maybe you’ll think about it differently when you hear, “Louisville is the city of parks.”