It was a vision that began nearly a decade ago, but with the release of renderings showing a sprawling, interactive campus, the future Shawnee Outdoor Learning Center came one step closer to reality.
“Our parks system really embodies our core city values of health, lifelong learning and compassion,” Mayor Greg Fischer said. “Shawnee Park is a great example. We’re excited about our vision for creating a hub for outdoor recreation and learning experiences in west Louisville at will become the Shawnee Outdoor Learning Center.”
The facility would become a regional nature/outdoor learning center providing “cradle to career” access to nature for west Louisville residents at the neighborhood level, combining elements of public use, community event space, as well as environmental education, recreation and stewardship activities.
It will support expansion of Louisville Parks and Recreation’s award-winning Louisville is Engaging Children (ECHO) outdoor program, which provides early childhood nature play through a mobile unit; STEAM-based field trips for partner schools in west Louisville; spring, summer and fall out-of-school time recreational programming for youths; summer youth employment, job-training and mentoring opportunities; and a host site for family-friendly community events, such as the annual Canoemobile excursion at Shawnee Park.
“There is a definitive need for school-age children living in the urban environment to have nature-based experiences,” said Parks and Recreation Director Seve Ghose. “The Shawnee Outdoor Learning Center will not just fill a void. In many ways, it’s creating a home.”
The center is a key component of the West Louisville Outdoor Recreation Initiative master plan, which was completed in 2016. Louisville Parks and Recreation is currently in phase II of that plan, with an engagement and fundraising process to follow, and phase III – construction of the center – to conclude full implementation.
Additional items under the master plan that are in the process of or have been implemented include a new bicycle pump track that is nearly completed, paid for through funding from the Aetna Foundation; construction of a new boat ramp at Shawnee Park (construction to take place in 2019); and the restoration of the lily pond in adjacent Chickasaw Park also to be completed within a few years.
The center will also allow for program staff capacity building. Through Louisville ECHO and the Mayor’s Summerworks Program, parks’ staff is working to identify, train and hire program staff and naturalists living in the area for leadership roles at the center once it opens.
The public will have a chance to weigh in on the plan and learn more at West Louisville Appreciation Day on Saturday, July 28. Parks’ staff will be on hand from 1-5 p.m. to review public comments, and on that day a program including a ribbon cutting on the new bicycle path will be held.
“Reconnecting our community with nature and the Ohio River has been one of my priorities. Because of Parks and Recreation and the staff at Jefferson Memorial Forest, we have been able to support environmental education for our area schoolchildren with the ECHO program, canoe rides in the fall, and have introduced our children and families to all of those fun activities because of JMF’s participation with the Louisville Defender’s annual West Louisville Appreciation Celebration in Shawnee Park,” said 5th District Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton.
“I am excited to see the design for the new Shawnee boat ramp which we hope to break ground on this fall, and the Shawnee Outdoor Learning Center that our residents have had input on and participated with JMF staff on its design for many years.”