Save Otter Creek Park – The Friends of Otter Creek Park Blog

C-J: Otter Creek Park Likely To Be Padlocked Through June by stateofthecommonwealth
January 2, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: Louisville Metro Council, Media, OCP News

(2001 photo of the Otter Creek Park Conference Center by Michael Clevenger for the Courier-Journal.)

Amidst the flurry of news reports about Otter Creek Park‘s closing this past week, the Courier-Journal reported on Wednesday that Metro Parks anticipates that OCP will be closed through the month of June:

Otter Creek Park appears certain to close for an indefinite period on Friday, despite efforts to keep it open.

A group called Friends of Otter Creek Park is discussing strategies for keeping the Meade County park operating, and the city of Louisville remains open to turning it over to either the state or a private vendor.

But for the immediate future, “there are not a lot of reasons to be optimistic,” said Chris Poynter, Mayor Jerry Abramson’s spokesman, adding that hopes for reopening the park soon may be overly optimistic.

“Money is the whole thing,” said Metro Parks Director Mike Heitz.

The city acquired the 2,600-acre park about 25 miles southwest of downtown Louisville in 1947 as a gift from the federal government for its support of Fort Knox during World War II.

Covenants require the property be used for public recreation.

Poynter said the city will save about $180,000 by closing the park for the rest of the fiscal year, through June.

That’s just a fraction of the $20 million needed to make up for revenue lost to flagging job- and business-profit taxes taken by the recession. But, Poynter said, “We had to make tough (budget) decisions, and we think it is best to focus our limited resources on parks within the city.”

Most of the park’s staff of eight has been assigned to other city parks; one full-time and one part-time worker will remain at Otter Creek for maintenance and security, including trying to prevent poaching, said Metro Parks spokesman Andrew Crocker.

The story also reported on Friends of Otter Creek Park’s efforts:

The Friends of Otter Creek group has met twice and will meet again at 7 p.m. Monday at the Southwest Government Center on Dixie Highway.

Several Web sites devoted to the effort have popped up, including a Facebook page, where more than 5,000 people have signed on.

Patsy Bowman, one of the Friends organizers, said ideas for keeping the park open include charging admission, raising user fees and, perhaps, shutting it down from November to April.

The supporters plan soon to present their ideas to Abramson, she said, adding, “I do believe we have a shot.”

Metro Parks officials have said they couldn’t charge admission without losing immunity in lawsuits filed by anyone injured at the park.

Not to open a can of worms with this post, but it seems dubious that the City would be exposing itself to major liability by charging an entrance fee. This is the one sticking point that is always brought up, but so far has yet to be explained in any detail to be credible. Certainly, many parks and wildlife areas all over the country charge entrance fees.

Additionally, measures by the State and other entities were discussed as well:

State Rep. Jeff Greer, D-Brandenburg, said he has talked to numerous state officials about ways to keep the park open, but “it’s just too early” to pinpoint a direction.

“We have some things hopefully turning,” he said. “I’d love to see the park up and running by May.”

Jay Blanton, spokesman for Gov. Steve Beshear, said yesterday that the state administration is willing to talk about ways to preserve Otter Creek, though he said he knows of “no active proposal out there right now that would prevent the closure of the park in the immediate future.”

He said the state, facing its own $456 million revenue shortfall, “certainly has no options involving any kind of assistance for Otter Creek from the general fund.”

Even so, Heitz said his assistants intend to meet with Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources officials next month. They have expressed interest in designating Otter Creek as a wildlife-management area. Fish & Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett has said one condition for the state taking over Otter Creek would be that Metro Parks’ ban on hunting and fishing in the park be lifted.

Heitz said Metro Parks has had inquiries from several private vendors and developers interested in running the park. He said the city is considering advertising for competitive proposals for running the park from a developer, who might want to add such amenities as a golf course, restaurant or hotel to generate revenue.

Abramson met Dec. 18 with Col. Rick Schwartz, garrison commander at Fort Knox. The Army officers “indicated they would love to keep it open … but that they had no funding,” Poynter said.

Fort Knox spokesman Ryan Brus said the post already operates the 65-acre Camp Carlson, which includes a 25-acre lake, lodge and campsites open to soldiers, their families and guests. Taking on Otter Creek would duplicate some of those facilities, he said.

Poynter said Meade County officials also “have indicated they don’t have the wherewithal to run such a large park.”

But County Judge-Executive Harry Craycroft, who described the park’s closing as “a crying shame,” said Meade officials are supporting Greer’s efforts to involve the state.

Unfortunately, State and Federal options seem unlikely. Private enterprises interested in running the Park aren’t discussed in any detail, either. Clearly if a major portion of the park would be developed as a result of a private entity taking control, that might be damaging to the wildlife in and around the park, and could definitely be terrible.

In Wednesday’s issue of the C-J, there also appeared this story about David Jones’s 21st Century Parks project: Metro Council Panel Backs Park Management Deal. And in today’s paper there’s this glowing report about Waterfront Park: Waterfront Park Nears Completion of Its Green Revival After 10 Years.

Why can’t there be the same sort of cooperation between public and private enterprise to keep Otter Creek Park open, if that’s what needs to be done? If the budget problems that threatened OCP loomed on the horizon, why didn’t Louisville Metro make as much effort as possible to keep OCP from closing? These questions, and many more, need to be answered.


3 Comments so far
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I’ve suggested elsewhere auctioning off ‘naming rights’ to local businesses/corporations to at least provide a good chunk of the funding needed if not all of it. Something similar to Papa Johns having their name on Cardinal Stadium perhaps we could eventually have ‘UPS park at Otter Creek’ or ‘DuPont Park at Otter Creek’. Surely this would be attractive to a company trying to assert itself as being environmentally friendly…just think of all the points a company could score with the local community by saving a place like this.

Comment by Danny

While that could be a possibility, and I definitely think every possibility should be explored, I can’t think of a single park in the United States with a corporate name, which makes it unlikely. But anything’s possible, I guess. I wouldn’t really care what the park was called as long as it was still open.

Comment by stateofthecommonwealth

“Covenants require the property be used for public recreation.”
Covenenants are usually set by the grantor and the grantee is burdened to threfore obey those provisional uses. Covenants can be amended, so long so grantor and grantee agree. So as a thought to save the park, and given the Department of the Interior would have to agree, here’s suggestions, and I’d admit to some being outside the box.
a. Of the 2600 acre parcel, carve out say 500 acres closes to the 1638 highway or maybe on the Northwest/Rock Haven side. Parcel that up to acre lots, to be sold for development. Again developer building restrictions and covenants could be used to limit enviromental impacts, and to preserve the serenity of the area. Lets say those 1 Acre lots, all 500 sold for just $20,000 each. Is that $1 mil? Is that enough to overcome 2 years at $500,000 loss per year? The park you be 75 to 80% is original size. Wouldn’t the sale of the property also add long term support to the tax base, even if for Meade County, and if not by apportioning agreement with Louisville? With BRAC at Knox coming, wouldn’t making land for residential and commercial development that close to Knox and in a very under developed area make sense, and present opportunitites to developers and investors?
b. Have federal law enforcement agencies been contacted such as FBI, Dept Homeland Security, etc, to solicit interest in use on a reimburseable basis as a training site. Great palce to train for search and rescue, or for K-9 searches and tracking. Would that not be a sign of federal support, of land granted by the fed in 1947, and if the fed is bailing out banks, then why not its parks?
c. Again, would take some inspired rewrite of covenants, but with that in mind, why not out right commercialize the conference center, read that as either long term lease or sell. What a view, and the new owners say Best West, Comfort, Fairfield, Holiday, Hampton, or Ramada would have the parks historical sales records to consider, and if one of these major players names were on that facility, wouldn’t more big business from Louisville consider using it. Okay, don’t sell it to them, set and agreement that they can use the facility, manage, and operate it, building free to them, and all they need do is hang the shingle as a “contracted operator of a government facility”, pay state and local taxes on what they earn. By agreement with the state, the State returns to the city of Louisville 90% of the tax income generated by this facility operated by the contractor.

Just some thoughts.

Comment by BOB HAMME

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