A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Clark County’s Legacy Grove Park draws statewide visitors for its unique accessibility characteristics

Hundreds of Clark County-area residents played, ran and exercised as the community celebrated the dedication of Legacy Grove Park. The 30-acre park includes sprawling greenspace, tree-lined paths, nature areas, gardens, and a dog park – along with a two-acre play area designed to be accessible for people of all abilities – young and old alike. Its unique accessibility characteristics for individuals with limited mobility is expected to attract families from throughout the region.

Dozens of area residents who participated in the planning and development of Legacy Grove celebrated its completion, and the park’s potential benefits to the community for generations to come. In addition, a daylong series of community events occurred at the park – including birding, yoga, environmental education programs, music, moongazing, and a variety of children’s activities – to mark opening of the park. Though residents began utilizing the park more than a year ago, a formal dedication and opening ceremony did not occur until recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The park (1107 W. Lexington Avenue) is on the former site of the Clark Regional Medical Center. Following the hospital’s relocation in 2012, The Greater Clark Foundation (GCF) began the task of repurposing the land into a public space as an enduring gift for the community. Legacy Grove was designed with input from more than 200 area residents of all ages.

It attracts visitors from the NKY area as well, lured to the park’s accessibility traits for children with mobility challenges.

The centerpiece of Legacy Grove play area is an expansive American ginseng-inspired shade sculpture. (Photos provided)

Creating a unified vision for play

In partnership with Learning Landscapes Design, a design firm specializing in creating inclusive, educational and nature playscapes in public spaces, GCF brought youth civic engagement into the design process for the park’s Adventure Play Area. Children representing various perspectives, abilities, backgrounds and life experiences were recruited in 2016 to work with the designers and be involved throughout design and construction. The resulting play area is among the most inclusive and engaging play spaces in the region.

The unique play area provides developmentally rich spaces that engage multiple senses to inspire imaginative, sensory, collaborative, and physical play for all abilities. Through intentional organization of impact surfacing and grading, children using mobility devices can easily move throughout the play zones and actively play with their friends. There are many sensory play elements incorporated throughout nature-based and free play areas, and children are challenged at their specific ability level. The restrooms include wide turning radiuses for wheelchairs, grab bars, and amenities placed at a height for people in wheelchairs. The play area is also fully fenced to create a clear boundary for children and families.

Jen Algire, president and CEO of GCF, said the vision behind Legacy Grove is to provide space for area residents to play, reflect, imagine and connect in a comfortable and fully accommodating setting.

“For children and their families, we see the park as a special gathering place,” she said. “Play has the power to stimulate the mind, strengthen the body, develop problem-solving skills and cooperation – as well as a sense of wonder and imagination. There is something here for every child – of any ability.”
Though the concept and development of the park was initiated by GCF, a separate non-profit organization –  Legacy Greenscapes – formed in 2017 to manage and maintain the park. Deborah Jackson was named executive director of Legacy Greenscapes in October 2020.

Great communities … great public parks

“Great communities have great public parks,” said DeEtta Blackwell, a member of the Legacy Greenscapes board of directors and an early champion for GCF’s legacy gift to the community. “Parks enhance our quality of life, provide opportunities for residents to socially interact and give us all a chance to get outdoors, and to exercise. Great parks can even attract businesses and create jobs. Legacy Greenscapes is committed to preserving and enhancing this space for decades to come.”

To symbolically complete the transition of the property from GCF to Legacy Greenscapes, GCF board chair Rosalinda Gay presented the members of the Legacy Greenscapes board with an ornamental oak walking stick.

Young Lincoln Moore watches as his dad, Steven, speaks at the park’s dedication, praising Legacy Grove’s accessibility. Lincoln, with his mom Amie, has mobility challenges due to spina bifida and utilizes his walker at the park.

“Hundreds of people in the region played a role in creating and designing this park,” said Gay. “Every aspect of its design was purposeful and derived from input by residents, landscape architects and other experts. And now, moving forward, this beautiful community jewel will be managed and lovingly cared for by Legacy Greenscapes.”

Gay noted that Winchester architect Bill Esarey, owner of wee landscape architecture, provided inspiration and leadership during the conceptual phase of Legacy Grove and continued as a driving force in overseeing park design and construction.

Lilly Florence, who served as a member of the play area’s Youth Design Team, said her opportunity to be involved in the process has inspired her. “Being part of the team made me truly believe in myself. Everyone involved made me realize what teamwork is about. For the past five years, The Greater Clark Foundation has inspired me to do good for the community.”

Local inspiration

It’s hard to miss the local and regional inspiration in the play area design. Natural boulders and mounds represent geological landforms found in the knobs region of Kentucky. The stone walls, saddle, and concrete horses in the Building Maze represent the Bluegrass Region. Exploration Creek mimics a natural freshwater Kentucky stream, surrounded by native plants, narrow and winding with small waterfalls and “down log” crossings. The Dulcimer Climber is a one-of-a-kind climbing piece, designed to represent a dulcimer. Homer Ledford, Kentucky’s most renowned dulcimer-maker, made the musical instrument in Winchester. Aside from climbing, children can relax on top of the undulating roof, find quiet and shade underneath and ring steel bells to make their own music.

Lilly Florence, 16, was just 11 when she became part of the Legacy Grove Youth Design Team.

The centerpiece of the play area is an expansive American ginseng-inspired shade sculpture – its giant branches and leaves towering 24 feet in the air, providing shade during hot summer afternoons. Eastern Kentucky is the nation’s largest producer of wild ginseng. The display was created by internationally recognized Prometheus Art, a Lexington-based award-winning creator of large-scale, site-specific public art that creates great community “third places.” Their public art can be found throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East.

Legacy Grove was designed by Learning Landscape Design (Portland, OR) and CARMAN (Lexington) with construction managed by Dean Builds, Inc. (Lexington).

Algire concluded the dedication ceremony by thanking the current and past GCF board members and staff for their forward-thinking, challenging vision – a vision that “ultimately makes this community a better, stronger healthier place to live, work and play.”

“And we’re not finished,” she said. “The park we dedicate today is a symbol of what a community can do when it has a vision for the future and when individuals from all walks of life step up to participate. It is important for all of us – all sectors of the city and county – to be good stewards of this park and all of our parks and public green spaces moving forward.”

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