The Highlands’ Cherokee Park is arguably the most popular park in Louisville. The 400-odd-acre, 118-year-old park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted (who also laid plans for Central Park in New York City and the area surrounding the U.S. Capitol), and as with most anything else that age, Olmsted’s enduring local creation needs a bit more maintenance than keeping the grass trimmed and garbage picked up.
Louisville Metro Parks and the Olmsted Parks Conservancy have unveiled a new master plan for the popular Hogan’s Fountain area , named for the statue of the Greek god Pan, designed by Enid Yandell at the turn of the last century. (The statue itself is not slated for renovation.) The new plan addresses current issues such as parking/traffic issue resolution, reworking of obstructive power lines, more appealing restrooms and structures and erosion reversal—but the most controversial aspect is the removal of the “teepee” shelter. In fact, the final plan, unveiled this week, spells it out: “Remove existing Tee Pee shelter, provide new 25-person shelter.”
This is not to say that Louisville Metro Parks plans to leave Cherokee Park’s visitors out in the rain; to the contrary, the idea is to preserve a sheltering space—just not the original structure. The problem lies in the expenses associated with retrofitting or repairing the wooden shelter (including the roof), which dates from the mid-1960s; it would cost approximately the same to tear it down and rebuild it. This isn’t sitting well with an ad hoc group united to protest this, and the 1,000-member strong “Help Save the Witches [sic] Hat at Cherokee Park” group on Facebook  has been sharing the latest information on this development for nearly a month now.
“Would this same financial argument be used for another historic structure?” asks Lark Phillips, a lifelong Highlands resident and vocal opponent of the planned razing. “There is a feeling...a palpable feeling under that pavilion of our collective history, and it echoes with all the happy moments that hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of people have shared in that space. Did you know that some churches hold services there? Did you know that wedding ceremonies take place there? There is something very special about a space that is large enough that multiple groups can use it at the same time, allowing mingling and the possibility of new friendships blooming.”
It’s true that there is no set-in-stone schedule, because of funding issues. “We can't really offer a timeline for changes to the park,” says Jason Cissell, Administrator of Community Relations & Events for Louisville Metro Parks. “That's all dependent upon funding being made available, and the current economy makes that difficult to predict.” Still, the plan calls first and foremost for the remedy of problem issues and beautification of the Hogan’s Fountain area: the shoring up of soil along roads and gullies to stop erosion, muddy conditions and tree decline; parking and pedestrian/vehicular conflicts in congested areas; a cobblestone base surrounding the fountain itself as opposed to what Louisville Metro Parks describes as the current “unpleasant” asphalt. (To be clear, Cissell stresses that the cobblestones would not extend into the driving lane or the recreation lane; as Cherokee Park often hosts bike races and charity walks/runs, no design changes would be made that would disrupt that function.)
Even with that maintained aesthetic, what may be a nostalgic part of childhood to one person is an impractical—even dangerous—relic to others. According to a Louisville Metro Parks-produced report presented after a series of public meetings last spring, “The existing shelter is deteriorating and is not compatible with the historic character of the park.” Cissell also wishes to dispel the rumor that a parking lot will replace the structure, and that its demolition is imminent.
Phillips isn’t convinced. “I think it comes down to the error in belief of those on the planning committee that ‘new is better,’” she says. “New is not even close to being better in this situation. I think that money cannot be the issue here. If funding is a problem, there are countless people who will work tirelessly to raise enough money to save this beloved Louisville landmark.”
Cissell has studied the issue from all facets, and not just the historical ones. “I can't really offer much of a response to someone who is suspicious of a cost analysis [commissioned by the Olmsted Parks Conservancy],” he says. “They're certainly welcome to seek their own quotes from contractors on what it would cost to fully replace that roof….Hopefully, any sensible person would recognize the challenges involved in repairing that roof—starting with erecting elaborate scaffolding.”
You may also enjoy: Fasten your seatbelt for a breakneck video tour of the Highlands! 
Photo: Courtesy Olmsted Parks Conservancy