In Louisville, Kentucky, a nonprofit group has raised millions to create a massive park system that rings the outer limits of the city, and Plein Air Painters of Kentucky are celebrating its beauty with a show. 

Louisville is home to a necklace of parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, 18 substantial green spaces connected by tree-lined parkways that represent “the ultimate park system of his career,” according to Olmsted Parks Conservancy, the caretaker of that system. But Olmsted designed those parks in the late 1800s, when they were forming a ring around the outer limits of Louisville. The new nonprofit, 21st Century Parks, is building a new ring called the Parklands of Floyds Fork around the outer limits of Louisville’s metropolitan area as it stands today. The first major components in this ambitious plan are already open and enjoyed by the general public, with more set to open in 2016. 

Jane Morgan and her piece in the park. Photo by Mike Bucayu

“Olmsted’s vision was to make sure that people were able to enjoy nature in the city,” says Anna Rosales-Crone, communications coordinator for the Parklands. “Back then, his parks were in the outer loop of the city. This continues this legacy.” The project is overseen by David A. Jones, Sr., a co-founder of Humana, a global healthcare company formed in Louisville in 1974. His son Daniel H. Jones serves as chairman and CEO of 21st Century Parks, and acts as the driving force behind the initiative.

Gwenn Knight depicts a path. Photo by Mike Bucayu

The Parklands of Floyds Fork has elicited praise from Louisvillians, who immediately began to use the 4,000 acres of open space to jog, walk dogs, hike, bike, fish, cool off in sprinklers, paddle, and paint. “It’s just beautiful out here,” reported Jane Morgan, the founder of the Plein Air Painters of Kentucky; she was talking on her cellphone on location in the Parklands, where she was painting. “They are doing such a great job. They are doing some really great things here, for the environment and for people to enjoy nature.”

Morgan is not a newcomer to advocacy for Louisville parks. Through her work with the Plein Air Painters of Kentucky and through her gallery, she has raised awareness about Louisville’s Olmsted parks and donated a percentage of sales to their upkeep. The painting group is planning an exhibition of images painted on location in the Parklands; it will be on display in the park in spring 2016, then it will relocate to Jane Morgan Studio & Gallery, where it will be on view through July 2016. The artists will donate 10 percent of sales to 21st Century Parks, and Morgan will match that with an additional 10 percent out of the gallery’s piece of the pie. 

Ken Boatright paints one of several silos in the Parklands. Photo by Mike Bucayu

When completed, the new ring of parks around Louisville will stretch more than 100 miles. Already, the Parklands is sprawling. And Kentucky painters are loving it. “We did give them target areas that we thought might be good to paint, but they are free to paint anywhere. They have free rein, and they seem to really enjoy it,” says Rosales-Crone.


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