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


WHAS 11: Metro Parks Spent $600k On New Mowers by stateofthecommonwealth
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.

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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 — http://www.courier-journal.com/blogs/bruggers/2009/01/why-not-charge-2.html.



Fox 41: How Lack of Security at Otter Creek Park Has Led to Vandalism by joelhunt
January 19, 2009, 8:23 pm
Filed under: Louisville Metro Government, Media, OCP News

Only on Fox: How lack of security at Otter Creek Park has led to vandalism

(Click link above for video of the story.)

Fox 41 WDRB is reporting that the closing of Otter Creek Park has led to vandalism inside the Park, with local authorities unsure of how to respond:

Earlier this month, the City of Louisville closed Otter Creek Park because of budget cuts.

When the park closed, the city said it worked out a deal with local law enforcement to patrol the park and provide security.

Officials in Meade County say that’s not entirely true. In fact, the sheriff says the park is virtually unprotected.

A sign at Otter Creek Park’s entrance says it all, “park closed, no trespassing.” The park has been closed since early January because of the city’s budget cuts that grew out of a $20 million shortfall.

A gate now blocks anyone from entering Otter Creek Park, but the city says a few unwelcome guests have trespassed. There have been a few reports of vandalism. There is one state Fish and Wildlife officer left to patrol more than 2,000 acres. The Meade County Sheriff says he’s not patrolling it.

“Absolutely not. My office has not been contacted at all about any increased patrol, asking for increased patrol for Otter Creek Park,” said Butch Kerrick, Meade Co. Sheriff.

Vandals have caused damage to the splash park and broken windows. Kerrick says he doesn’t have the funds to pay his deputies to patrol the park’s 2,600 acres.

The other nearby cities aren’t patrolling it either. Kerrick says the park is virtually unprotected.

“Per se, I doubt if anybody is watching it. It’s locked it’s got gates. It’s got big bar gates. We have no keys to them,” said Kerrick.

Kerrick says one of his deputies was called Sunday to remove a stolen four-wheeler but had to contact a local constable to gain access.

“That’s a concern that this may be a drop off area for stolen four-wheelers or anything else. If they can get four-wheelers or dirt bikes, next thing they’ll be taken vehicles in there, stripping them, burning them, whatever,” said Kerrick.

A Metro Parks spokesman says the city worked out a deal with the Brandenburg Police Department to provide security. But Brandenburg’s mayor says he was unaware of that arrangement.

Begging the question, who is responsible for a closed park?

“I would think it would fall back on the City of Louisville. I don’t see where the citizens of Meade County should have to pay or be responsible for what the City of Louisville got themselves into. It’s not our responsibility,” said Kerrick.

A Metro Parks spokesman says the city cannot afford to re-open the park at this time. The spokesman said the city has an arrangement with “some” law enforcement in Meade County.

If that’s the case, both the mayors of Brandenburg, Muldraugh and the Sheriff of Meade County seem to be unaware of it.

Apparently Louisville Metro has no arrangement for law enforcement within the Park by nearby agencies, despite claiming so. One wonders how much damage has been done, and whether said damage will be expensive to remedy if and when the Park ever reopens.



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.