New Shawnee Outdoor Learning Center Project Will Bring Nature-Based Events to West Louisville

For Vincent James, Louisville Metro’s Chief of Community Building, working to create recreation options for kids in West Louisville takes him back to his own childhood running around in Shawnee Park.

That’s why he’s so proud of the new Shawnee Outdoor Learning Center project, which was unveiled during a news conference on July 20. 

“This particular project reminds me when I was growing up in West Louisville, we had an opportunity to ride our bicycles, we called them dirt bikes back then, and ride in the trails and along the River,” James said during the event. “We went around and played in the parks all day long. Then there was a period of time when you didn’t see that anymore. It wasn’t taking place, you didn’t see as many kids in the park. Now I’m a part of the administration that’s bringing that back to the city.”

The $10 million facility to be located in Shawnee Park will serve as a center for multiple recreation activities, including canoeing, fishing, and rock-climbing. Fundraising is just beginning, with construction planned to start in 2020.

“This building will be a community event space for the neighborhood and will be staffed by the young people of the neighborhoods around here who have had their love of nature fostered by their experience with ECHO,” Mayor Fischer said. “We’re excited about creating a hub for outdoor recreation and learning experiences right here in West Louisville.”

Also new to Shawnee Park is a bicycle pump track that was created by a dozen young people as part of the Mayor’s SummerWorks program, in combination with the Engaging Children Outdoors (ECHO) organization. The track comprises a circuit of banked turns and features designed to be ridden completely by people creating momentum through up and down body movements.

“When I was a kid, the things that we used to do was simply riding bikes and playing basketball all day. But with this center, kids will be able to canoe, fish … (there will be) a multitude of activities they will be able to enjoy,” James said.

Chris Reese, one of the team members who built the track, said the work was difficult, but it was rewarding to see the track ready for use by bikers.

Also part of the Shawnee Park plan is a new boat ramp, scheduled for completion in 2019, which will enable canoeing. The restoration of Chickasaw Pond, which will be stocked with fish when completed, is another key part.

All of the changes are being directed through Louisville Parks and Recreation Department and are part of a plan developed in 2016. The goal is to give more children access to nature-based experiences.

Bennett Knox, who directs the ECHO program and activities at Jefferson Memorial Forest, said the construction of the center will be the culmination of a three-year program.

The ECHO program, which started in 2008, provides school-based outdoor experiential learning, out-of-school time recreation, outdoor job training and employment, and annual community events. Every year it brings the Canoemobile – a roving fleet of six, 24-foot Voyageur canoes – to the area. It also sponsors STEAM-based field trips for partner schools in West Louisville that focus on science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics programs.

A group of young people who helped build a new bicycle pump track in Shawnee Park are joined at the grand opening by Louisville Metro Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton (in yellow), Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville Metro Chief of Community Building Vincent James (in the blue tie), and Bennett Knox (white shirt), who directs the ECHO program and activities at Jefferson Memorial Forest.
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