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Floyds Fork, The 'Lungs Of Louisville' and Sustainable Development

Jeff Frank

Fires are ravaging the so-called “lungs of the planet” in the Amazon. It can be overwhelming and, honestly, puts too fine of a point on what many already understand about our treatment of the planet.

Environmental advocate Jeff Frank says that Louisville has its own “lungs” — the Olmsted Parks in the urban core, the Jefferson Memorial Forest to the southwest and the Floyds Fork area to the southeast. These are sanctuaries for the city’s tree canopy and wildlife.

On Thursday, Frank discovered a vast mat of algae growing on the surface of Floyds Fork in the area around Fisherville. He took pictures and followed the mat for about a mile and half.

Robert Johnson with the Kentucky Division of Water said the state's tested the surface scum twice in the last few weeks and found it to be run-of-the-mill green algae.

"We have yet to come across any blue-green cyanobacteria blooms,” he said.

Regardless, the algae is a sign the stream is unhealthy, Frank said. Algal blooms often happen when streams and lakes are overloaded with nutrients from runoff and treated wastewater.

Frank said the algal bloom, plus low dissolved oxygen levels and recent fish kills on Floyds Fork are all signs the stream is at a tipping point.

“It’s beautiful country, people don’t get it that a mile outside the [Gene Snyder Freeway] we’ve got bald eagles flying and a beaver dam tucked up,” Frank said.

The stream, the tree canopy, the wildlife; all of it is threatened by future development already underway in the area, he said.

But on Monday, Louisville’s planning commission is scheduled to consider a new plan for the South Floyds Fork Area.

The plan comes on the heels of a first attempt that failed over a decade ago. The document serves as a vision for growth, development and investment over the next two decades.

“We’re not saying don’t build out there, but plan first then build,” Frank said.

The plan recommends low-impact, sustainable development that protects natural systems like Floyds Fork. The five guiding principles are: connected, healthy, authentic, sustainable and equitable (CHASE).

Its goals include the preservation and enhancement of the tree canopy, walkable neighborhoods, expanded mixed-use and mixed-income housing, and improving access to quality jobs, services and education.

So back to the existential dread posed by climate change; Frank said he knows one or two things to do about that. It may be a cliché, but he abides nonetheless: think globally, act locally.

“If we like night sky, the habitats that were here, the things that make this place uniquely this place: Kentucky glade cress, the big bluff overlooking the springs on the fork. Those things, we should be mindful before we erase them,” Frank said.


This post has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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