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May 20, 2008

Summer Fun Guide - The dog ate my gas can: This may be the summer to get outdoors on a budget

Matt Barnett and Anna Krippenstapel: Photo by Jane Mattingly Matt Barnett and Anna Krippenstapel, from the Louisville band Vampire Squid, know how to have fun in Cherokee Park. It’s a great place to fly a kite.By the time May rolls around, people are looking to enjoy the outdoors, and often that means getting out of town. But there’s that unstable economy thing, and I think I heard something about high gas prices … So, at times like this, our expectations need to be adjusted. We may have to find our fun without leaving Louisville. The first thing to do is tap into Louisville’s Metro Parks system. It’s not just throwing Frisbee with your dog, either. Louisville’s parks offer more active activities such as biking and hiking.Originally designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted in the late 1800s, Louisville’s enormous and well designed park system was already pretty good. Then, in 2005, the mayor announced a new initiative, City of Parks, with the goal of acquiring and developing new land and also upgrading existing parks. “We’ve spent about $25 million on capital improvements to existing parks,” says Jason Cissell, public information officer for Metro Parks, adding that he hopes the new initiative can educate the public about environmental conservation.Pedal to the pavementMetro government has been working to make Louisville’s roads and parks more conducive to cycling in recent years. As part of the City of Parks program, new bicycle lanes have been striped on public roads, and a system of bicycle routes is being constructed to connect downtown to all of Louisville’s outlying parks. In the May issue of Bicycling Magazine, Louisville was ranked as one of the nation’s three most improved cities in terms of bike-friendliness. “For three years, we’ve been working diligently to add bike lanes to our city’s streets — and we are now up to nearly 40 miles,” says Mayor Jerry Abramson. “It was a great honor that Bicycling Magazine has recognized our work.”So where are the best places to ride in Louisville? Steve Sarson, vice president of education for the Louisville Bicycle Club, recommends Cherokee Park. “They have a lot of good trails for mountain bikers, or you can do the park loop on a road bike or any type of bike really. You’ve got a lot of options there.” The loop at Cherokee Park is 2.4 miles long, but if you’re looking for a longer, more scenic route along the river, or just something closer to the West End, Shawnee Park has a loop for cyclists as well. The Shawnee Park loop connects to the Riverwalk, a 6.9-mile bicycle and jogging trail that runs from the Belvedere to Chickasaw Park. The Riverwalk is part of another major development in the city’s cycling community, the Louisville Loop. When completed, the Loop will encompass a 100-mile trail that essentially encircles Jefferson County. The first phase, which includes the Riverwalk, is finished. It starts at Waterfront Park and takes you on a scenic riverside excursion through Shawnee Park, ending at the Farnsley-Moreman Landing. Then there’s Otter Creek Park, just outside the city limits in Meade County (about 25 miles southwest of downtown Louisville), with several paved trails and dirt trails for mountain bikers.Take a hikeIf barreling down a dirt trail on a bicycle isn’t quite your thing, maybe you prefer the hiking trails within the parks system. While the Louisville Loop is intended for both bikers and walkers, Pat Molloy, vice president of the Louisville Hiking Club, says the trails are great for walkers, and “much easier on the legs.” Two parks — Iroquois and Cherokee — should be a great fit.Further out in the East End, E.P. “Tom” Sawyer State Park has a mile-long fitness trail as well as one-and-a-quarter-mile nature trail, which takes a scenic route into the woods. New trails have been added to Joe Creason Park as well. For a more extensive hike, Molloy recommends the Siltstone Trail in Jefferson Memorial Forest, 6½ miles long and traversing the beautiful hills and valleys of southern Jefferson County. (It’s not uncommon to see local wildlife on the trail, such as turkeys or deer.) But with considerable length and steep hills, you should know the Siltstone Trail is intended for the more experienced hiker. Another option for more experienced hikers is the Knobstone Trail in Southern Indiana, which sprawls through three counties that include prime forest and some state parks. Knobstone is 58 miles long with the loops, 49 without.Camp LouisvilleCamping is another activity that really doesn’t dictate that you get out of town. Jefferson Memorial Forest and Otter Creek Park, both just south of Louisville, have campgrounds with beautiful scenery; both are operated by Louisville Metro Parks, and Cissell notes both are great “if you want to make a weekend of it, but you don’t want to drive halfway across the state to a state park.” In Southern Indiana, Charlestown State Park and Deam Lake are frequent destinations for campers. Many folks like the amenities in Harrison County as well (www.thisisindiana.org has tons of details).Cissell asserts that the development in Louisville parks over the last few years signifies progress and growth for the city. “If people want to ditch their cars for the weekend and go somewhere on foot or bike” he says, “or if they want to just drive a short distance to a place where they can spend a few hours hiking, biking, jogging and enjoying nature, there are great opportunities to do so in the Metro Parks system at no cost.” That’s a PR guy for you. But you know what? That “no-cost” thing may be a terrific selling point for the Summer of 2008. Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.com