Group encourages West End residents to explore the great outdoor - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Group encourages West End residents to explore the great outdoors

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - The dirt bowl stands as Shawnee Park's signature summer event. Louisville's best ballers put athleticism to the test as the park shows off its full potential as a recreational resource for the West End.

SteVon Edwards sees more for Shawnee Park. "Festivals, that's great, but we want people to actually connect to nature, not just a ball field," Edwards said. She's part of a group called Outdoor Afro, a national non-profit just establishing roots in Louisville.

"Outdoor Afro is a social community that works to dispel the myth that African Americans are not connected to nature," Edwards said. She serves on a Metro Parks steering committee that's working to create an Outdoor Learning Center at Shawnee Park.

The center would bring the neighborhood resources and activities its never seen before.

"Say for instance hiking trails, really nice safe fishing access, canoeing access to the Ohio River. Programming relating to environmental education, stewardship, park improvements," said Bennett Knox, an administrator with Metro Parks.  

"Knowing the types of leaves that you find in Louisville, Kentucky; the types of trees you see; what kind of fish do you actually see in the Ohio River, and so there is an opportunity to not just know where you live, but experience the ecology of it," Edwards said.

The plan would mold Shawnee in the way of Jefferson Memorial Forest, hosting activities like horseback riding, archery, even programs for camping.

Plans are to use the facility near the corner Southwestern Parkway and Broadway as the new Shawnee Learning Center. It's currently being used as a maintenance yard for Metro Parks, but it needs some work.

The National Parks Service is sponsoring a planning grant. City officials would have to come up with the rest of funding.

"It's going to be about a million dollars to do the renovation at a really nice level," Knox said. And that may be the hard part. A million dollars to renovate a high poverty, and at times high crime community could see donors crying foul.

"I grew up in the West End, I did," Edwards said. She says she knows what she's up against. I guess you'd say the nostalgia of just being able to be outdoors is gone because of fear," Edwards said.

But the steering committee presses forward saying the learning center fits into Louisville's larger goals of improving health and wellness and academic achievement.

"That exposure to nature at an early age can be so broadening to children. You can go into careers in science, you can go into careers in government, you can go into careers in art," Knox said.

"It's absolutely essential because as urban dwellers we do not have the connection to nature that those who grew up in the country or other places do," Edwards said. 

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