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

Friends of Otter Creek Park Petition Now Available Online! by stateofthecommonwealth
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 by stateofthecommonwealth
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 by stateofthecommonwealth
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

Friends of Otter Creek Park Meeting TOMORROW, January 26th by joelhunt
January 25, 2009, 9:39 pm
Filed under: Events, Friends of Otter Creek Park News, Meetings, OCP News

The next Friends of Otter Creek Park meeting will be tomorrow, Monday, January 26th, at 7 PM at the Southwest Government Center at 7219 Dixie Highway (click here for a map).

This meeting’s focus will be on the Sub-Committees formed at the last meeting on January 5th. The Sub-Committees are:

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

After a brief introduction at the beginning of the meeting, we will divide into these Sub-Committees to work on a plan of action for each, for approximately 45 minutes to an hour. After this group workshop time, the larger group will reconvene and the Sub-Committees will report on what they’re planning. If you’ve signed up for more than one Sub-Committee, there should be ample time to work in more than one.

If you CANNOT attend tomorrow’s meeting, you may want to consider attending the first of Mayor Abramson’s Community Conversations tomorrow night to express your support for reopening Otter Creek Park at Westport Middle School, 8100 Westport Road, in the East End (click here for a map). The Mayor’s Community Conversation begins at 6:30 PM.

Watchdog Earth: Why Not Charge? by stateofthecommonwealth

(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 —

LEO’s Interview with the Mayor and Otter Creek Park by joelhunt

If you haven’t seen it by now, we wanted to make you aware that LEO Weekly‘s issue this week includes their extensive annual interview with Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson, who has quite a bit to say about both the controversy surrounding the closing of Otter Creek Park, and our group, the Friends of Otter Creek Park. Here’s the relevant parts of the interview (you can read the entire interview here):

LEO: Another group that is getting louder by the day—

JA [Jerry Abramson]: Otter Creek.

LEO: Yes, the Friends of Otter Creek.

JA: It is very simple to explain to you why we moved in that direction. For many years, I’ve had this discussion with six governors — I’ve been mayor a long time — we have thought that this magnificent park, this very, very unique jewel of a wilderness setting and just gorgeous landscape, needed to be a state park. Because we don’t do a very good job running it, because we know how to run municipal parks — we can handle Cherokee Park, we know how to do Iroquois Park, we can handle Shawnee Park, we know how to handle Hays Kennedy Park or Long Run Park, etc. — but we don’t do very well in terms of a park that has cabins and hookups for RVs, for electricity and water.

So we have said we lose money every year; we used to lose $500,000 a year. We’ve tried to get governors to take it over. There was always a reason not to. I tried to work with the federal government, to have Fort Knox take it over; there was always a reason not to. We talked with the Meade County judge — it’s in Meade County — several judges ago, and asked him if we could serve wine. Maybe if we could serve wine and champagne, there might be an opportunity to host more events, which would help cover some of the expenses to defray the cost — because if you’re spending $500,000 out there, you could’ve spent the $500,000 at … parks within Louisville-Jefferson County. We tried to get the liquor license; the county judge made a commitment they would vote it wet, and then at the fiscal court meeting, he voted no.

… At this point in time, when you’re looking for a half a million dollars, and you’re also looking for money that you can save for these six months that will roll forward because this next budget’s going to be even tougher, we said we’re going to close it, and see if that would generate interest. [emphasis ours]

And you know what? The state parks are going out there, the state Fish & Wildlife [department is] going out there, I met with the garrison commander of Fort Knox — they’ve been out there twice. So all of a sudden, there’s a lot of energy around in terms of what can we do to ensure that the park is open as soon as possible? The county judge in Meade County is interested, he’s said, in making it an industrial park, or a residential area. Well, we’re not going to allow it to be developed into an industrial facility. We want it to be what it is: a beautiful wildlife preserve, an opportunity for folks to commune with nature. We’ve also got nonprofits that have contacted us: the Y[MCA] has a facility out there, [Boy] Scouts, saying what role can we play?

Suffice to say, we’re working on crafting a response to Mayor Abramson’s comments, to be published in LEO as soon as possible. We’re also very interested in meeting with him to discuss Otter Creek Park, anytime. However, there’s some elements of this interview that, based on just our initial impressions from reading it, we have to respond to.

According to Mayor Abramson above, closing Otter Creek Park was actually a ploy to save it! Somehow, we’re not buying this argument. Louisville has a number of private/public partnerships and quasi-governmental groups dedicated to serving citizens. Off the top of my head, I can think of the Olmstead Parks Conservancy, the Downtown Development Corporation, Greater Louisville Inc., Waterfront Development Corp., etc. If Otter Creek Park has been such a drag on the city’s budget year after year, why wasn’t any initiative taken to fix the problem before closing the Park? The savings of closing OCP reportedly only comes to $180,000 per year — why was there no effort to try to find that money from sources other than Louisville Metro’s budget?

Which goes on to the second problem of finding a group — whether governmental or otherwise — to run the Park now: how does closing the Park complicate the problems it already has? What hidden costs might be added as a result of the closing? Certainly while closing Otter Creek Park to visitors has kick-started our group’s activism on behalf of the Park, it has also hurt interest in OCP by both local residents and visitors from elsewhere. Sure, it’s winter, and that’s the slowest season for outdoor recreation, but closing the Park entirely has to have had a “chilling effect” (pardon the pun). Additionally, since the Park isn’t being maintained, what start-up costs will a potential buyer/operator have to contend with? Wouldn’t the Park be more attractive if it was still open and being maintained?

The Mayor goes on to discuss Friends of Otter Creek Park within the context of “citizen enragement”:

LEO: I was at a community meeting [last] week in the southwestern part of the city. It’s been my experience at some of these meetings, including some where you’ve been there, that they start off on issues — and this one was about Otter Creek Park — and they get derailed into criticism of you, conspiracy theories about you and your administration. It seems to me this is the only part of the city where this happens with such regularity and drama.

JA: Citizen engagement is great. The fact that there are individuals pulling together to set up a Friends of Otter Creek, to look at options, to work with me ultimately on how we can keep it open. I think citizen engagement is great.

What troubles me are those that are involved in citizen enragement, and I’m afraid that in the area you’re referencing, there are two or three individuals who take much more pride in involving themselves in citizen enragement rather than citizen engagement.

… Citizen enragement, with sometimes not sharing the facts, framing the issues in a way that enrage rather than involve — unfortunately there have been a couple of folks out there in that area that have done that more than once, on more than one issue. And so it is what it is: We work with the folks who want to work with us.

I can’t speak for anyone else involved in Friends of Otter Creek Park in terms of their feelings towards Mayor Abramson. Given that our group consists of a large, diverse group of individuals from all over the surrounding region — including people who don’t live in Louisville Metro — it’s fair to say that there is probably not one, monolithic point of view given Louisville’s Mayor.

Speaking for the group, however, I will say that Friends of Otter Creek Park is ready to work with Mayor Abramson or any other government official, organization, charity, or group willing and interested in reopening Otter Creek Park. Period.

That said, our meetings are open to the public, and we value what everyone in the community has to say — otherwise we wouldn’t bother with public comment periods at our meetings. As far as I’m concerned, Friends of Otter Creek Park is about finding a solution to the problem through democratic and transparent means. The citizens of Louisville Metro and Jefferson County don’t deserve any less than that.

Mayor’s Community Conversations Schedule Set for 2009… by stateofthecommonwealth
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.