By Evie Boland, 2020 Summer Intern
All I used to see while walking through the parks was green: trees, bushes, grass. They had always been there, and I had always enjoyed them, but I never thought about what or who actually makes that happen. My summer internship started in June, and since then I have been discovering one thing after another that must be done to keep the parks happy and healthy, and to continue to engage all the communities surrounding them. There is so much work behind the scenes that I took for granted. Whether it is from the field work standpoint, the community engagement, the campaigning and funding, marketing, etc., the 13 staff members have dedicated their careers to keeping the 17 Olmsted Parks in great shape for all of Louisville.
The internship began with a zoom call. Matt Spalding, the Education and Volunteer Program Manager began to give me the introductory presentation about Olmsted Parks: the history, the land, and of course, the mission. Olmsted Parks, founded in 1989, strives to “ to restore, enhance and forever protect Louisville’s Olmsted-designed parks and parkways, connecting nature and neighborhood while strengthening the community’s well-being.” Spending time with the conservancy gave a glimpse of how each diverse job position works to instill this in all our parks.
Most of my time was spent with Matt and The Team for Healthy Parks, helping out with whatever I could and learning the ropes of how to care for a park. As the THP does all their work they always strive for a balance of both the aesthetic of Fredrick Olmsted, along with the health of the park’s nature. There is always a long list of tasks for them, longer than there are hours in the day. Bouncing around from park to park all around Louisville, they have to remove acres of invasive plants–like bush honeysuckle and porcelain berry vine– and I got to learn about the different techniques used for this. At times we used herbicides to perform cut-stump treatment, or simply to use as a foliar spray. I spent mornings with the Team for Healthy Parks digging holes for planting new shrubs, installing memorial stones and new benches. The fact that all of this and so much more has to be done continuously to keep up with the growing wildlife eluded me prior to this job.
Working in the outdoors provides a whole new set of surprises. Matt and I took on the simple task of replacing trail signs in Cherokee. To me, this seemed like a quick and easy mission, but there are always countless more steps than you think. After drilling the holes into the proper places so it will line up with the sign post, we headed to the park. When we went to replace the signs, we discovered wasps nests in the spaces between the sign and the back of the post. Their consistency impressed me, as they had inhabited each and everyone and created quite the obstacle for us. We worked around them as much as possible, but getting dive bombed by a bug with a stinger is less than pleasant! This is just one example of how complicated these things can be. I see everyday the ways in which the staff have to get creative and problem solve with very unconventional circumstances and a wealth of obstacles.
Not only is the natural beauty and health of the park the job the conservancy has taken on, but they also strive to connect with the community as much as they can. Due to Covid-19 I didn’t get to see community events in action, but as I visited the parks I learned about how they are designed for people’s enjoyment and convenient usage. I heard about the events they usually have, and got to meet some volunteers that are very dedicated to the park. Before I had never thought about what Olmsted Parks Conservancy is, and I always assumed that the parks were simply city run, but now I have learned more about the intricate relationship between Louisville Parks and Recreation and the conservancy. I never questioned where they got the funding until I attended the staff meetings and heard conversations with many terms I later had to google! There are so many small details and choices that have to be discussed with each marketing strategy, funding campaign, and change to the actual park.
Not only did I get to learn about local ecology, marketing and campaigning strategies, and how to use many tools I never dreamed of touching, but I now feel so much more connected to the city. I look through the parks and imagine what happened to create that space, and the work that has been put into each and every inch of all 17 parks. I saw where people from every part of town spend their time, getting an opportunity to connect with places other than my own neighborhood. I look at things and see the intentions and energy that went into the decision making and their implementation, and I know the people who did it. Everything at the conservancy was a learning experience, and what I learned covered a range much broader than I imagined.