Louisville ECHO (Louisville is Engaging Children Outdoors) is a grant-funded outdoor education and recreation initiative managed by Jefferson Memorial Forest and the Natural Areas Division of Louisville Parks & Recreation that is focused on improving equitable access to the outdoors for Louisville youth and families. Louisville ECHO is comprised of four complementary components: school-based outdoor experiential learning, out-of-school time recreation, an outdoor job training and employment component, and annual community events.
In 2008, Parks was one of 16 national recipients of a grant from the U.S. Forest Service, through their “More Kids in the Woods” program, which provides seed money to develop programs that connect children with nature. Since Louisville ECHO’s inception, the education component has provided over 3,000, primarily lower-income, youth with multiple annual outdoor experiences including: inquiry-based activities in local parks and natural areas to explore aquatic and terrestrial environments; service learning such as tree planting to encourage a stewardship ethic; an overnight camping trip to Jefferson Memorial Forest to develop a deeper connection to nature and promote free play; and day trips to the Red River Gorge or Mammoth Cave National Park to broaden horizons by introducing students to awe-inspiring and relatively more pristine environments.
Presently, the education component engages 4th grade students from six partner public elementary schools: King, Portland (a JCPS environmental magnet), Young (an International Baccalaureate World School), Coleridge-Taylor Montessori, Coral Ridge, and Chenoweth. All education component activities are tied to the Next Generation Science Standards to enhance each school’s science curriculum. In the summer, classroom teachers from Louisville ECHO partner schools participate in professional development to plan the activities as well as to increase their comfort level teaching outdoors and to incorporate STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) into the Louisville ECHO curriculum.
In the spring of 2018, Louisville ECHO is adding a mobile nature play unit to bring nature play with natural materials to relatively nature-poor urban parks. To find out which park the ECHO Mobile will visit next, please check out the list of upcoming ECHO Mobile events.
During the spring, fall and winter, Louisville ECHO also includes an out-of-school time (OST) outdoor recreational component which provides at-risk and low-income participants with free naturalist-led activities such as archery, fishing, climbing, survival skills, and hiking. During the summer, Louisville ECHO offers week long day camps that allow kids from partner organizations to explore even more outdoor activities such as canoeing, biking, and touring Mammoth Cave National Park. Participating youth service providers include Metro Parks and Recreation Community Centers, Parkland Boys and Girls Club, Cabbage Patch Settlement House, Americana Community Center, STEAM Exchange, and Uspiritus. With support from the Mayor’s Summer Works program, Louisville ECHO provides training to young adults in the field of outdoor environmental education and recreation programming. Trained young adults will assist with Louisville ECHO’s OST program component in the summer and serve as mentors to youth within target neighborhoods. In addition, Louisville ECHO includes large public events, such as the annual Canoemobile offered at Shawnee and Riverview parks and an outdoor component at the annual West Louisville Appreciation Days, in which a variety of outdoor activities are offered free to the public.