The Louisville Parks and Recreation Department received a $195,000 grant from the National Recreation and Park Association to make environmental improvements to a pond in Chickasaw Park.
Jefferson Memorial Forest Administrator Bennett Knox told Insider returning Chickasaw Park to its past glory is an environmental justice issue that he has been working to address since 2008. The project is part of the park department’s larger West Louisville Outdoor Recreational Initiative, which Knox is overseeing.
The goal of the initiative, which includes the Shawnee Outdoor Learning Learning Center, is to provide young people in west Louisville with “cradle to career” access to outdoor activities like hiking, fishing and canoeing, Knox said. The grant money and an in-kind contribution of engineer services from the Metropolitan Sewer District will go a long way toward making that goal a reality, he said.
“This money will not pay for construction, I want to make that clear. It will pay for a landscape architect and construction documents. This money will allow the project to move forward. The next step is finding an architectural firm,” he added.
Chickasaw Park, located in the Chickasaw neighborhood, was designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead and is part of the Olmsted Park System. The city designated Chickasaw a black-only park in 1924. Although the park was desegregated in the 1950s, its amenities have been allowed to deteriorate over the decades.
At a press conference to announce the grant on Monday, Metropolitan Sewer District Chief Tony Parrott said the pond in the park has low water levels and polluted water because of stagnation. Parrot said Chickasaw Park is a historical asset, and the pond has enormous potential.
“This project has benefits for our community and environment. Our role in this centers around our mission of ensuring we have safe and healthy waterways,” he said.
The initiative, Knox said, was inspired by the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, a nonprofit that educates the community about the environment, conservation, sustainability and other issues related to urban ecology, as well as to preserve and protect the natural areas in the city.
Louisville was one of 10 cities to receive a grant from the National Recreation and Park Association this year as part of the Great Urban Parks Campaign, which aims to improve environmental and social outcomes in underserved communities through green stormwater infrastructure projects in local parks. Other 2018 recipients included Albuquerque, New York, Memphis and El Paso.
Bennett said the parks department has known since mid-September that it won the grant but could not make it public because of an embargo.
At the press conference, Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, D-5, reminisced about ice skating and fishing in the pond when she was a child living near the park. Hamilton expressed hope that the next generation of residents would be able to enjoy the amenities she remembered.
“I know how anxious everyone is for the return of the pond and the return of access to the Ohio River. This grant will help further that process,” Hamilton explained.
Mayor Greg Fischer at the press conference said the grant was recognition of the hard work the city has done to maintain its park system.
“When you think about our city – our city values around lifelong learning, health and compassion – it all comes together beautifully in our park system,” Fischer said.