Walking along Louisville’s Waterfront
You can call Louisville “The Ville” or “Derby City,” but Louisville is also known as the “River City.” Downtown is nestled along the Ohio River right next to the Falls of the Ohio, the only natural barrier for barge traffic along the entire waterway. But unless you plan to sail or canoe through the McAlpine Locks and Dam, you’re most likely going to stick to the shore. That’s where we find Louisville’s Waterfront.
Starting from the Galt House Hotel on Fourth Street, I walked down the stairs to the Waterfront where the first things I saw on the water were the Spirit of Jefferson and the Belle of Louisville. The Belle of Louisville is 98 years old and is the oldest operating steamboat in the United States. This ship has a lot of history and is rooted in tradition in Louisville. During the Kentucky Derby Festival, the Belle competes in a race with the Belle of Cincinnati in the Great Steamboat Race. This year, the American Queen also participated. But if you’re thinking this is a race where the first ship to cross the finish line wins, you’re mistaken. The race is scored on “points.” Go figure …
A few minutes away, I walked under the Clark-Memorial Bridge, known locally as the Second Street Bridge. I used to drive over this bridge every day to go to work, and it is one of the major road arteries that link Louisville to Southern Indiana. I never had much appreciation for the massive structure until I walked underneath. Those pillars are still holding up the bridge 83 years after it first opened. And when I looked closely, I could see that some people tried to make sure they were etched into the bridge’s history with their names written on that first pillar closest to shore.
From the Second Street Bridge, the Waterfront opens to a wider space. I saw Joe’s Crab Shack in the distance with replicas of Christopher Columbus’ ships the Niña and the Pinta docked nearby. These ships built by the Columbus Foundation aren’t a permanent part of the Waterfront and will only remain docked at the wharf through today.
Past Joe’s Crab Shack, I crossed a small bridge to the Great Lawn. This is where the city holds several festivals throughout the year. But unlike Thunder Over Louisville or Forecastle Festival, normal days on the Great Lawn are peaceful. Cyclists are cruising along the Riverwalk, readers are finding a cool spot to open a book and people are playing frisbee. When I looked at the river from this vantage point, I started to see some river traffic. A man in a speedboat was heading up river as a barge passed underneath the Kennedy Bridge to head to the Locks.
The Kennedy Bridge is the area’s newest bridge over the Ohio River. It’s designated as an interstate and can get gridlocked during rush hour, especially southbound traffic. But underneath the bridge, I wasn’t worried about dodging crazy drivers. I was looking in the distance at the water level markers. Since I’ve lived in Louisville, the river flooded once in March 2011. That caused several roads to be shut down close to the river, submerged entire communities and caused the delay of the Great Steamboat Race until the summer.
Further down the Riverwalk is the Lincoln Memorial featuring a giant bronze statue of the 16th president. The monument opened in 2009 and tells the story of Abraham Lincoln’s beginnings in Kentucky, names his connections to the Bluegrass State, highlights his famous “House Divided” speech and features four of his most notable quotes.
At this point, I had spent about an hour walking a mile and a half along the river. The stopping point for me was the Big Four Bridge. This used to be just an abandoned railway span, but now Kentucky and Indiana are turning the bridge into a pedestrian walkway to connect both sides of the river. On the Louisville side, the path leading up to the Big Four Bridge is already finished. It is set to open to pedestrians and cyclists next year.
If you visit Louisville, I would recommend taking a stroll along the river. It’s peaceful, relaxing and offers a great retreat from the city.