Agency Spotlight: Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation, Kentucky

January 1, 2015, Department, by Samantha Bartram

Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation offers a wide variety of programming for the whole community, including group sports, arts, fitness and more.Essential Information 

120 parks, six parkways, 12,701 acres of open space, 12 community centers, two senior centers, two arts and cultural centers, one adapted leisure division, four swimming pools, one aquatics center, 16 spraypads, 14 spraygrounds, nine golf courses, three youth golf courses, two historic homes, one extreme skatepark, two outdoor amphitheaters, five cemeteries, 300 restrooms, 500 total structures, 175 playgrounds, 135 athletic fields and 160 tennis courts. Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation has earned accreditation by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA) for two consecutive terms.  

Extreme Awesomeness

Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation has a lot to boast about, beginning with the above-mentioned amenities. Since its inception in the late 1800s, this robust park system has been dedicated to improving the lives of Louisville residents with top-notch facilities and innovative programs. In 1891, “father of American landscape architecture” Frederick Law Olmsted contracted to design several parks still in operation in Louisville, including Shawnee, Iroquois, Cherokee, Boone Square and Baxter Square, as well as two (Kenton Place and Logan Place) that are no longer in operation. In those days, Olmsted parks represented the pinnacle of intelligent, responsive design, as communities across the United States clamored to make use of his expertise.

Today, Louisville Metro Parks continues in that same cutting-edge tradition with locations like Louisville Extreme Park. When initial construction was completed in 2002, the park boasted 40,000 square feet of outdoor concrete skating surface, a wooden vertical ramp and a 24-foot full-pipe appropriate for skateboarding, inline skating and biking. Recognizing the value of the site to visiting and resident skaters, BMX bikers and X-Gamers, Louisville Metro Parks is currently renovating the site, with new features set to open in 2015.

Likewise, Louisville’s Eva Bandman Park has also enjoyed its share of extreme attention, having hosted the 2013 Cyclo-Cross World Championships. The park became the first site outside Europe ever to host the event, which features top male and female cyclo-cross athletes from all over the world.

Preeminent Programming

Louisville residents are fortunate to have folks like Assistant Director of Recreation Ben Johnson on their side, especially if they’re unsure of what to do at any one of the dozens of parks, recreation, or art and culture sites in the city. A public service veteran with more than 10 years’ experience, Johnson has had a hand in developing programming for youth, teens, adults and seniors in his community. “Our centers are hubs for physical, mental, emotional, social and financial growth and development,” Johnson says. 

When asked to name one of his most successful programs to date, Johnson can’t be so choosy — “I’ve gotta go with three, one of which is a service, not a program,” he says. Highlighting Studio2000, Rec on the Go and Kids’ Café — an arts program, recreation outreach service and feeding program, respectively — Johnson demonstrates how responsive Louisville Metro Parks is to the needs of area residents. Each targets underserved populations including young artists, residents lacking easy access to recreation amenities and hungry children, and all underline the truism that park and recreation professionals excel in thinking outside the box to address a variety of needs. 

Add to those initiatives a recent push by the recreation department to address out-of-school time for at-risk youth, and it’s easy to see why Louisville Metro Parks is such an asset to the community. “The majority of our centers are located in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods,” explains Erika Nelson, community relations administrator with Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation. “We provided extended hours in six of our 12 [community] centers to attract youth 13-17 years old, into a safe and structured environment. In three underperforming summer camp sites, traditional camp — where parents register and pay fees — was eliminated and ‘open’ programming was instituted. This allowed us to serve triple the number of youth each week at each location, giving us a greater impact in the community.”

From creative park design to responsive programming that addresses the needs of an ever-changing city, Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation continues its stated mission to “create a City of Parks where people can play, learn, grow and be healthy.” “Some of our most ardent supporters and frequent users are surprised at the variety of the things we do,” Johnson says. “When you have as many creative people and varied facilities as we do, our collective possibilities are almost endless.”


 Agency Details


Municipality: Louisville, Kentucky

Population: 756,832 (est. 2013)

Year Agency Founded: 

Board of Park Commissioners, 1890

Louisville Parks & Recreation Department, 1942

Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation Department, 1968 

Annual Operating Budget: $24,306,900

Director: Michael J. Heitz, AIA

Full-time Employees: 326

Part-time Employees: 35

Seasonal Employees: 237 


Samantha Bartram is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.