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The Vault: Here's how the contributions of Frederick Olmsted changed Louisville parks

Frederick Olmsted was known as the father of American landscape design -- famous for his work on Central Park, the U.S. Capitol grounds and the Biltmore Estate.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — There are many things that make Louisville a great city to call home – Louisville Slugger baseball bats, the Kentucky Derby, delicious hot browns from The Brown Hotel and its parks.

One of the city’s greatest assets are the magnificent Olmsted Parks system.

From scenic overlooks and rugged terrain in Iroquois Park to old-growth forests in Cherokee Park to broad river views in Shawnee Park – all corners of the city are brought together by beautiful tree-lined parkways.

The Louisville park system is the mastermind of famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

The 26-mile system was constructed from the early 1890’s through the 1930’s. Initially owned by a state-level parks commission, control of the parks passed to the city in 1942.

Eastern Parkway, Southern Parkway along with Southwestern Parkway, are also known as the Olmsted Parkways and are part of a unique feature in the urban landscape.

They are an extension of the beautiful parks that they connect to and helped shape and create to the iconic urban design of our city.

This unique concept became what is considered the ultimate achievement of Olmsted’s great career. The Louisville parks system is one of only four completed such Olmsted systems in the world.  

Shawnee Park on the city’s western side, with its expansive great lawn is ideal for sports like golf and is the setting for the iconic Dirt Bowl.

Over in Cherokee Park, dogs and people alike enjoy Dog Hill and its beautiful vistas. Meandering through the pastoral park is Beargrass Creek and its rolling hills are perfect for sledding in the winter.

The trails at Iroquois Park are useful for a bike ride or hike. The southern park is more popular for its famed amphitheater and scenic North Overlook.  

In 1982, the Louisville park system was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As our city changes, our parks change too.

RELATED: Resolution to repurpose Cherokee Golf Course to hiking and park trails on hold

Through the years, lots of work has been done to keep up the parks, restoring their spaces as they grow weathered over the years.

Years of being a place to have a cozy lunch on a nice afternoon, bring a leg of the marathon with hordes of onlookers or being a space for neighbors to interact and meet new people.

Credit: WHAS-TV
Runners travel through Cherokee Park.

They contribute health and wellness to all and create valuable green spaces in our urban areas. The parks system has helped the city’s development, but it has also helped shaped us.

The parks shape our community’s identity, contribute to the quality of life – not just in the city’s center, but throughout the city of Louisville.

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