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Protesting in the park

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By John Friedlein

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN

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jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

MEADE COUNTY — Leah LeCount stood on a picnic table holding a bright pink “Save Our Park” sign. Her husband is away in the Air Force and they plan to move soon. So LeCount, who has spent her summers at Otter Creek Park, wants him to visit it at least one more time. Problem is, the city of Louisville plans to shut it down Jan. 2. The Radcliff woman was part of a crowd of roughly 200 people who Sunday afternoon attended a rally and petition signing at Otter Creek to save the park. Louisville is facing a $20 million budget shortfall this year, and closing the 2,600-acre park — which has a paid staff and allows overnight camping — will save taxpayers $500,000 a year. The city in recent years has discussed turning over the park to another governmental body. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources plans to soon meet with Louisville Metro Parks about possibly taking on the land — perhaps opening it up to hunting. Mark Borger, who used to work at the park, said if Fish and Wildlife takes over and allows hunting for two weekends a year, it won’t affect much. The Vine Grove man works for Outdoor Ventures Schwinn in Radcliff, which recommends Otter Creek for mountain bike riding. The closure will affect local cycling business, he said. Also, Borger said a lot of soldiers from the nearby Fort Knox Army post visit the park. “They need to get away from the crowd every now and then,” he said. Borger said he “was in shock” when he heard it was going to close. “It’s a good place.” Adam Dzagulones and Rachel Wagner also were concerned when they heard the park was to close. The Mount Washington couple planed to marry there; they sent out invitations, reserved cabins. Dzagulones, who is from Detroit, said he likes the area’s parks, and he and his fiancé wanted to tie the knot outdoors. “It’s a shame,” he said. Also attending the rally were members of the Lincoln Trail Antique Power of the Past club. They participate in an annual antique farm machinery show at the park. The group already has spent $1,000 on advertising for this summer’s event, president Ed Pike said. “We’re in a state of limbo.” The park, though, may reopen in some form if the state or another group takes over. Rally organizer Anna Collins of Louisville said she does not want Fish and Wildlife to allow hunting at the park. “It’s too dangerous. We like the deer where the deer are,” she said. She said she also doesn’t want to see residential and commercial development. But this type of growth is not allowed under a federal deed to the property. Several people at the rally suggested other ways to generate money for the park. Patty Oliver of Ekron, who has ridden horses at there for the past 25 years, said she’d be willing to pay to keep it open. And Peter Burkhart, a volunteer for the YMCA Camp Piomingo at Otter Creek, suggested charging entrance on an honor system. A city spokesman has said there would be liability issues if the park charged an entrance fee. Burkart also suggested the city to delay closure for at lest six months so a plan can be drawn up to keep it open. “It’s too important to too many people,” he said.   John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.