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

WHAS 11: Metro Parks Spent $600k On New Mowers
February 25, 2009, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Louisville Metro Government, Media, OCP News

WHAS 11 aired a whopper of a story last night, that Louisville Metro Parks spent over $600,000 on new mowers last year, just before spending cuts were announced by Mayor Abramson in December. Here’s the full story (you can watch video of the story by following the link above to WHAS 11):

Louisville, Ky. (WHAS11) – WHAS11 News has learned that as Louisville Mayor Abramson was closing Otter Creek Park to save a half million dollars, the Metro Parks Department was spending more than that on new lawn mowers.

It’s your tax dollars, and critics are saying its misplaced priorities.

But the parks department says the mowers are a great deal for taxpayers for the future.

The parks department says the fancy new lawn mowers are more efficient and were purchased just before the price went way up.

But spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawn mowers in tough budget times has got some folks flabbergasted:

You’ll be seeing these all-in-one Toro lawn mowers on Louisville’s public golf courses this summer.  The metro parks department bought eight of these new mowers last fall to replace the old tractor and pull behind blades currently being used.

Those eight faster, easier mowers were purchased last October.  The total cost was $507,000.  The next month, in November, metro parks purchased nine of these tractor pulled blade mowers which are designed to bushhog and cut high grass.  Total cost on those was $96,000.  More than $600,000 spent on new mowers just as Mayor Abramson was announcing a huge budget shortfall and millions in spending cuts.

Nowhere in the parks department’s capital budget is there any mention of cash for new mowers.  Storch says that’s because the money is coming out of metro government’s depreciation account.  Councilman Downard still wonders how the mower purchases will sit with city workers who face four mandatory furlough days without pay.

And yes, it is true, that $600,000 price tag on the new mowers is about $100,000 more than metro government expects to save by closing Otter Creek Park.  Downard says that’s one less park to mow with more lawnmowers.

One minor note about this story: Louisville Metro only predicted to save on the order of $180,000 for this fiscal year by closing Otter Creek Park, so the $500,000 figure cited in the story is a bit misleading. Louisville may save $500,000 in the next fiscal year if OCP remains closed, but closing OCP also ended a revenue stream, as well the potential for more. Either way, spending $600,000 during a recession on lawnmowers that, no matter how nice they are, will depreciate is not what we’d call fiscal responsibility.


Friends of Otter Creek Park Petition Now Available Online!
February 4, 2009, 4:28 pm
Filed under: Friends of Otter Creek Park News, Meetings, Reader Contributions


We apologize for the delay in making petition forms available online, but they’re finally here! Click on the following link to open the petition form as a JPEG:

Once the JPEG is open on your computer, all you have to do is just print it out!

Please bring any signatures you collect to the next Friends of Otter Creek Park meeting (date and time to be announced shortly). And please be sure to ask signers to print their information CLEARLY and LEGIBLY. Thanks!

Power’s Been Out – Back Soon
February 3, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Friends of Otter Creek Park News

We apologize for the lack of updates on the site, but obviously things have been a bit hectic since last week’s ice storm. We’ve got power back and will have more updates soon. Thanks for being patient!

Tonight’s Meeting: Sub-Committees Coming Together
January 27, 2009, 5:33 am
Filed under: Events, Friends of Otter Creek Park News, Media, Meetings, OCP News

(Robert Strickland of the Petitions and Volunteering Sub-Committee addresses the crowd.)

Tonight’s meeting of the Friends of Otter Creek Park at the Southwest Government Center was remarkably productive, though not without a few exciting moments! Prior to the group’s meeting, the FOCP board had a quick meeting during which some interesting aspects came to light. Board member John Oliver produced a copy of the original quitclaim deed granting Otter Creek Park from the United States of America to the City of Louisville. We hope to have a scan of the deed available on this site in the next day or two.

As the meeting was getting underway, I related the news that Louisville Metro Parks is seeking proposals from third-party vendors to run Otter Creek Park (click link for news story from Sunday’s Courier-Journal). As it turns out, two potential vendors, Gary and Shannon Mefferd, were in the audience, and addressed the crowd with their plans for reopening OCP. Needless to say, Friends of Otter Creek Park hopes to be a part of the process of selecting any potential vendors, and we’re doing our best to identify and communicate any third-party with realistic hopes of reopening the Park.

The majority of our business tonight revolved around our previously formed Sub-Committees, again available here:

1. Petitions and Volunteering
2. Public Relations and Media
3. Non-Profit and Charity Outreach
4. Government Liaison
5. Legal Issues and Liability Policy
6. Friends of Otter Creek Park Bylaws
7. Special Interest Groups

We spent almost an hour divided into a few of the seven Sub-Committees, though two of them — Non-Profit and Charity Outreach and Legal Issues and Liability Policy — were unrepresented. However, the Sub-Committees that met did devise plans which they then shared with the group.

Robert Strickland spoke for the Petitions and Volunteering Sub-Committee, which is working on a number of issues, some in partnership with Metro Councilman Doug Hawkins’ office:

1. To draft a petition statement.
2. To research the legality of signers from counties other than Jefferson.
3. To schedule meetings to deliver petitions once an adequate amount is reached.

(After some later discussion, it was decided that delivery of the Friends of Otter Creek Park petition will be done in a respectful and non-confrontational way.)

Amos Wilkins reported some great ideas from the Media and Public Relations Sub-Committee, which include the following:

1. Producing a Public Service Announcement for either television or radio about Friends of Otter Creek Park.
2. Crafting the Mission Statement for the group (this can be done in collaboration with the Bylaws Sub-Committee).
3. Writing editorials for local media outlets (the Courier-Journal, as well as smaller newspapers, were mentioned as possibilities).
4. Compiling photos of Otter Creek Park for local media use.
5. Crafting and disseminating press releases for all Friends of Otter Creek Park meetings and news.
6. Working with the Special Interests Group to get the word out about FOCP’s mission and meetings.

Kevin Martin also added that as the sole Government Liaison Sub-Committee representative, he would like to work with the Media Sub-Committee in terms of contacting legislators at the state level about Friends of Otter Creek Park.

Brian Tucker presented for the Friends of Otter Creek Park Bylaws Sub-Committee, which produced ten articles for revision as FOCP’s bylaws. After a day or two of editing, we plan to publish those bylaws to this site no later than Friday, January 30. At the next Friends of Otter Creek Park meeting, the group as a whole will vote on the bylaws.

Last but certainly not least, Mike Mosier spoke with the group on behalf of the Special Interests Sub-Committee, which was well represented by hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, campers, trout fishermen, and more at tonight’s meeting. The general consensus of this group is that FOCP needs to do all we can to reach out to the many recreational groups who have used Otter Creek Park in the past, and keep them informed and up-to-date as to our group’s activities.

All in all, I’d say we accomplished quite a bit tonight, with still much more work to go. As related at the meeting, the Friends of Otter Creek Park Board hopes to have an introductory meeting with Metro Parks in the next two weeks, as well as make more progress towards incorporation and development of a plan to reopen the Park (in addition to discussions with any other potential third-party operators). Keep checking this site for more updates, and feel free to email me with any questions at

Watchdog Earth: Why Not Charge?

(Map of Otter Creek Park from the C-J via Metro Parks.)

Courier-Journal blogger James Bruggers published an extensive post on his Watchdog Earth blog today featuring Metro Parks Spokesman Jason Cissell answering some questions about entrance fees and liability issues at Otter Creek Park. Here’s the entire post:

Otter Creek Park is closed now. The city says it can’t afford the $500,000 it takes to keep it open. The city also says it gets about 500,000 visitors.

Some folks have asked: Why doesn’t the city charge a small admission fee, and keep it open.

Well, I posed that question to Jason Cissell, the parks spokesman, who replied (my thoughts on the responses are in bold):

“We looked at that for Otter Creek. In fact, when we redesigned the road system to create a single entrance a few years back, we had a gatehouse in mind. To be clear, the road redesign was for safety and for way-finding, but the idea of a gatehouse seemed interesting. A couple problems, though:
1) Charging a daily admission fee for general access to the park would jeopardize our recreational immunity, creating the possibility that an injured park visitor could successfully sue us.
2) Otter Creek Park has some significant natural hazards (more than any other park we operate), and we have park users air-lifted from Otter Creek to hospitals downtown every year. Recreational immunity, as defined in state law, gives us an additional tool to defend against lawsuits by injured parties. Same reason we don’t charge to use the skatepark: the revenue isn’t worth the risk.

(This all sounds a bit odd, but I also don’t doubt that lawyers offered that advice. Meanwhile, the city assesses all sorts of different fees on recreational services, and state and national parks typically charge visitor fees, so I am not sure I fully by that reasoning.)

3) The costs to build and staff a gatehouse around the clock (since we have overnight guests) would offset a good chunk of the anticipated revenue.

(What about using volunteers for some of the shifts? I wonder whether the city would need to hire union labor? Collecting money in a booth seems sort of like a minimum wage job. I am not totally buying this one, either. Also, an automated gate activated by some sort of code or card could be used at night.)

4) The argument of charging a buck or two a head assumes that all of the 500,000 annual park visitors are coming for informal day recreation. The vast majority are coming for things where they’ve already paid a fee: weddings, corporate events, campground, cabins, summer camps, etc. We count all those, including YMCA users, in our attendance estimate. The number of people coming for informal park use is really fairly small, as evidenced by the light parking at trail-heads and down by the river. Charging admission for someone coming to a wedding isn’t really practical (brides and moms get angry about that sort of thing), and trying to keep a list at the gatehouse of everyone who has already paid would make it very time consuming to get through the gate. The fees for camps, weddings, corporate events, etc., are priced according to what the market can bear, and adding a per-user surcharge to that would take our prices higher than many would pay. Example: your wedding is drawing 300 people, we’re charging $2 per visitor. You either tell all your guests to arrive early, queue up at the gate and fork over $2, or you pay an extra $600 for your rental and issue passes to all your expected guests.

(This answer makes the most sense to me. I can see some logistics problems. But I think it could be worked out to just add the additional fees into the bills of those who are renting the services, and then those visitors get in by showing a wedding invite or pass. I’ve got no way of knowing what the market will support for weddings without doing some sort of market survey. Would the prospect of an extra $600 for a 300 person wedding party really send the happy couple elsewhere?

5) Not all park users (i.e., YMCA users) can be compelled to pay a fee, based on longstanding agreements. That creates another logistical challenge at the gate.

(How about negotiating new agreements based on new economic realities?)

All that said, I’ve generally never understood why some people think parks need to fully pay for themselves. Access to nature and outdoor recreation is critical for people’s mental and physical health, and public open spaces make sure that outdoor recreation is available to everyone, not just the wealthy who have access to private farms or forests. We don’t charge for police or fire runs.

Let’s hope that the city, working with park advocates, Fort Knox, the state and others can find some sort of resolution that makes this lovely park along the Ohio open to the public again, soon.

By the way, there are now more than 6,000 members of a “Save Otter Creek Park” page on Facebook.

Kudos to Mr. Bruggers for asking the questions that seemingly no other member of Louisville’s Fourth Estate seems willing to ask. Of course, there are a number of inconsistencies in Mr. Cissell’s answers. Here’s some more questions inspired by Mr. Bruggers’ post (some of which are directly related to his; our apologies):

1. By what legal reasoning is the City of Louisville less liable for accidents at Otter Creek Park (or any other city park, for that matter) because of a lack of entrance fees? It’s not as if people entering OCP — or Cherokee Park — sign some sort of waiver upon entering.

2. Red River Gorge, the Daniel Boone National Forest, the Hoosier National Forest, and many other parks in the region more than likely also have to airlift any people injured in their park boundaries to Louisville — how does that make OCP special in any way? Any serious incident in any Kentucky county without a trauma center probably has to do the same, so how is the City of Louisville any more liable than, say, Brandenburg or Vine Grove?

3. Despite the risks involved with operating Louisville Extreme Park, it was opened anyway, and continues to thrive. Why is that risk deemed acceptable (even without an entrance fee) yet activities at OCP are somehow more risky?

4. As we understand it, Metro Parks employees who worked at Otter Creek Park were transferred to other Metro Parks. Where is there any savings in terms of employment? Isn’t talking about how a guardhouse would add extra cost sort of a ploy to ignore the fact that Metro Parks is only saving $180,000 by closing OCP, none of which comes from payroll savings? Wouldn’t an active volunteer corps be enough to staff a guardhouse given that the Park closes at sundown?

5. Who in their right mind doesn’t charge some sort of nominal fee for wedding parties? Is Cissell even serious by thinking that wedding parties couldn’t be a significant revenue stream for the Park? If so, we would happily take a look at rates at comparable venues around Louisville (the Water Tower, the Galt House, etc.), and get back to him with an estimate on what should be charged.

6. If corporations who’ve used Otter Creek Park are doing so “on the cheap,” that begs another question about whether the Park’s facilities are being used and marketed in the proper fashion. Assuming that OCP’s conference center was a relatively reasonable rate cheaper than comparable sites in Louisville , why hasn’t an increase been considered? Shouldn’t corporations who use City facilities be encouraged to pay market rates, in the sense that they are giving back to the community?

Much like issues of security at Otter Creek Park post-closing, these questions need to be adequately answered.

(One last note for Mr. Bruggers: the Friends of Otter Creek Park Facebook page only counts our members who are active users of Facebook. There are many more people involved with our movement who are not on Facebook, but who should be counted.)

UPDATE, 1/21/09: A follow-up with Mr. Cissell has been posted —

Mayor’s Community Conversations Schedule Set for 2009…
January 13, 2009, 5:06 pm
Filed under: Events, Friends of Otter Creek Park News, Meetings

And somewhat unsurprisingly, the first one conflicts with the next Friends of Otter Creek Park meeting, on Monday, January 26th. Here’s the entire schedule, as posted today on the Louisville Metro website:

Monday, January 26*
Westport Middle School
8100 Westport Road
Map it
*4th Monday due
to MLK holiday

Monday, February 16
Moore High School – Theatre Room
6415 Outer Loop
Map it

Monday, March 16
Iroquois High School Gym
4615 Taylor Blvd.
Map it

Monday, April 20
Stuart Middle School Gym
4601 Valley Station Rd.
Map it

Monday, May 18
Newburg Middle School Gym
4901 Exeter Avenue
Map it

Monday, June 15
Ramsey Middle School Gym
6409 Gellhaus Lane
Map it

Monday, July 20
Carter Elementary School
3600 Bohne Avenue
Map it

Monday, August 17
Fairdale High School – Small Gym
1001 Fairdale Road
Map it

Monday, Sept. 21
Atherton High School – Small Gym
3000 Dundee Way
Map it

Monday, October 19
Southern High School – Large Gym
8620 Preston Highway
Map it

Monday, Nov. 17
Central High School – Large Gym
1130 W. Chestnut Street
Map it

Obviously, if community members upset with the closing of Otter Creek Park could get some face time with the Mayor, that would be beneficial.

C-J: Grant Rules Call for Opening 2 Trails at Otter Creek
January 12, 2009, 3:38 pm
Filed under: OCP News

Interesting news today, from the Courier-Journal. Basically, in 2005 Louisville Metro received a $10,000 federal grant for improvement and development of two trails within Otter Creek Park, and by closing the park, there’s some question of the city being out of compliance. Read on for more details:

Louisville and Metro Parks officials are trying to figure out how they can comply with federal regulations without having to reopen Otter Creek Park.

The city closed the 2,600-acre park in Meade County last week to save about $180,000 for the rest of the fiscal year — part of the effort to deal with a projected $20 million revenue shortfall.

But in closing the park, the city also ended access to two trails for hikers, bikers and horseback riders that were developed or improved with a $10,000 federal grant obtained in 2005.

State officials recently advised the city that the rules on awarding the grant require that the trails be kept open for public use “in perpetuity.” Failing that, the city would be required to develop comparable trails elsewhere.

A complication is that the new location cannot simply be a different park. Rather, the replacements must be developed on newly purchased public land, said Jodie McDonald, branch manager and administrator of the recreational-trails program for the state Department for Local Government.

McDonald said that, because public access is essential, she didn’t see how the city could reopen the trails without reopening the park, whose entrances have been locked.

Under no circumstance does the city intend to reopen Otter Creek Park any time soon, said both Jason Cissell, a spokesman for Metro Parks, and Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Mayor Jerry Abramson.

“We are not going to do it,” Poynter said.

Cissell said Metro Parks officials expect to negotiate a solution with the Department for Local Government, which administers the trail grants provided by the Federal Highway Administration.

McDonald shot down two possibilities suggested by Metro Parks — that the replacement trails be developed in Jefferson Memorial Forest, which is already public land, or that the city pay back the $10,000.

McDonald said that if the city doesn’t come up with a solution that complies with the federal regulations, the state could lose about $1.3 million a year in federal recreational trail funding.

Cissell said that Metro Parks accepted the $10,000 grant in 2005, matching it with $10,000 of its own. The combined funding went to develop the 3.2-mile Boone Hollow Trail and to make improvements, including signage and drainage work, on a 2.2-mile existing trail named Red Cedar.

“If the fences and gates are locked, people can’t ride these trails,” McDonald said. “And the city then is in noncompliance” with the federal rules. She said her department is waiting for the city to suggest an acceptable alternative.

“We do not see this as a significant issue. We’re confident we’ll resolve this reasonably,” Cissell said.

John Mahorney of Louisville, a mountain-bike enthusiast, said he used the dirt trails at Otter Creek several times a year and has friends who used them weekly.

He said that, if they are not used, the trails will quickly “go back to nature.”

There had been some talk about this grant, and whether it would affect the city’s closure of the park at previous Friends of Otter Creek Park meetings, so it is nice to see that there is an actual basis behind what we’ve heard. Stay tuned for more…