Fifteen years ago I attended a meeting that would forever improve my city — and my life.
During that meeting, the Chairman of the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy, Bill Juckett, challenged community leaders with an ambitious question. “Would you help us think of something that our generation can do that will have a 100-year impact on Louisville like the Olmstead Parks?”
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Louisville worked with the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead to develop a wonderful park system that became a magnet for new neighborhoods as families sought to escape the city’s downtown.
These parks were — and still are — a vital piece of Louisville. But as time has passed, our community has changed. Most notably, our population has shifted, leaving many of our residents too far away to regularly enjoy Louisville’s three Olmsted parks.
As I thought about Juckett’s question, I came up with a question of my own — What if we aimed to build a new Olmsted-style park system for the 21st Century? What if our generation aspired to create what our predecessors had by getting out ahead of the growth of our city and creating a new system of parks that would inject new life into Louisville’s neighborhoods?
As a second-generation trustee of my family’s foundation, the C. E. & S. Foundation, I knew I had access to a resource that could help answer this important question.
Our foundation provides each of its second-generation children and our spouses with what we call “family funds,” which are discretionary grantmaking budgets that we can use to pursue philanthropic projects that we care about personally.
With the foundation’s support, I used a portion of my fund — $35,000 to be exact — to commission a planner who would study where and how we could build a new park system for the Louisville community.
It was, by far, the best investment I ever made.
The planner identified a number of undeveloped parcels throughout the community that we could combine into creating about 4,000 acres of parkland. Then, working with our metro government and private landowners, we were able to make 80 separate real-estate transactions over a period of seven years to complete a wonderful corridor that would eventually become Louisville’s 21st Century Parks.
The Parklands – Turn Run Park grand opening.
This process was complex and, at times, difficult. But our family’s foundation was there at every step to help us navigate the various twists and turns that accompanied this work.
Beginning with that $35,000 gift from my discretionary fund, the foundation has provided important financial support, totaling nearly $3.4 million. My parents and my siblings have also been big individual supporters.
But the foundation’s support extends well beyond dollars and cents.
As we began the process of creating a nonprofit to manage 21st Century Parks, our then-Executive Director, Bruce Maza, played a massive role in helping us understand the complexities of building a successful nonprofit. As the nonprofit began reaching out to other foundations for support, Bruce and the foundation staff were instrumental in making sure our communications with those foundations were structured and well timed.
Without the leadership of Bruce — and many others at the foundation — this project would never have gotten off of the ground.
Because of their support, our community has built something that is changing lives in ways that we never imagined.
This year, in our first full year of operation, we are on pace to have more than two million visits to the park — a volume that would make it one of the nation’s 50 most-visited urban parks. That, alone, is an amazing accomplishment for a community our size.
But when you begin to think about the impact of those two million visits on the health and wellness of those who live in our community, you begin to see what our investment has helped accomplish.
If each visit averages about an hour and a visitor typically burns about 300 calories per hour when they are engaged in physical activity, visitors to The Parklands will burn 600 million calories this year. We have one visitor who has lost 90 pounds since we opened the park. Another regular visitor says she has walked more than 17 million steps in the park.
And the impact can be measured in much more than calories and steps. Consider that we’ve also been able to:
- Provide nearly 70,000 hours of high-quality science education.
- Plant close to 60,000 new trees and preserved nearly 4,000 acres of open space.
- Remove invasive species from our creek
- Create bike paths, playgrounds, and other amenities to ensure that our residents have access to clean, safe, and free activities.
- Employ more than 75 people.
Most importantly, we’ve been able to create a free resource that is available to everyone in our community regardless of who they are, where they are born, and what they do for a living.
And all of this started with a single grant from our family’s foundation — a small investment that will be improving lives in our community for decades to come.
The Parklands summer camp