An adventure play park formed by the site’s natural features that provides unique recreational opportunities while enhancing natural habitat and strengthening the community’s connection to the environment.

Flat Fork Creek Park is a new sixty-acre environmental park and recreational playground transformed from a former farmstead. On the rural fringes of the county and serving a rapidly developing community of new families nearby, the park offers an interactive experience with the natural world. The design immerses visitors of all ages to a variety of outdoor experiences that inspires a deeper understanding of ecological systems, while multisensory experiences challenge visitors to engage the park through the seasons.

Previously as a farm, the existing site was extremely flat with approximately two feet of elevation change across roughly fifty-acres of fields, while the remaining ten-acres encompassed heavily wooded steep slopes along Flat Fork Creek. REA led the park’s master plan and subsequent design with a multi-disciplinary team driven by the vision of immersing visitors into the area’s natural ecology and encouraging nature play at multiple elevations. This concept was reinforced by getting visitors to four primary levels: creek, ground-level, mid-level and tree-top. Thus, the topography of the existing, flat site was heavily studied and modified to mimic natural drainage patterns, retain water in select areas, and to create rolling hills and berms that support recreational activities.

“Flat Fork Creek Park is a glimpse at the return of real, retro play…
when kids ran out into the woods, build forts, climbed trees, poked
things with sticks, tossed stones and ran free into the brush.”

Indy with Kids, website and blog

At mid-level, a 1.5-mile all-inclusive walking loop was developed to offer an experience of immersing oneself among the trees; the park’s central path transitions from a concrete trail rising out of the Prairie & Habitat Restoration into an elevated boardwalk that weaves through the forest’s dense canopy of old growth Maple and Oak trees. High above in the tree canopy, three tree houses structures allow visitors to experience the park at a unique level. Each tree house – Tulip Tower, Redbud Retreat, and Oak Overlook – is distinctive in size and shape based on its location and surrounding natural setting. A unique amenity for the region, the two-mile progressive bike course weaves around the fringes of the Prairie & Habitat Restoration. The course was developed as part of the master plan in collaboration with one of the nation’s foremost experts.

The park’s landscape design was driven by habitat restoration and sustainability; it sought to restore native vegetation communities and provide opportunities for learning through landscape discovery. Diverse plant communities including prairie, sedge meadows, and emergent wetlands were created in the former farm fields.Ten-acres of existing forest was preserved, and an invasive species management plan was developed. Thirty-two acres of native seeding was installed on the re-graded site, including twelve-acres of reforestation with over 1,600 container grown native trees.

The extensive $3.5-million park acts as a gateway to the natural world; one that highlights discovery and recreation in all seasons. In a world that is becoming more and more driven by structure, time, and technology, Flat Fork Creek Park serves as a place for children and adults to feel connected back to the natural landscape.


2018 INASLA Environmental Stewardship, Honor Award
2019 KYASLA  Design Award

photography by Daniel Showalter