Destination: Elizabethtown

Elizabethtown Sports Park is a 158-acre, multi-sport and recreation complex designed to provide the city of Elizabethtown, Ky., with a game-changing regional and national sports tourism destination and economic-impact generator.

The city’s dream for the park began nearly a decade ago when Element Design was hired to design a master plan for a community park. The concept grew over time as the city and the tourism bureau began to see the financial impact of sports tourism in similar communities across the country. Elizabethtown began to generate revenue through a local restaurant tax; as the ideas grew, the master plan expanded. The resulting vision was a park of local, regional, and national impact—a state-of-the-art facility with pristine sports fields and amenities. 

The plan also contained a strong community focus, including walking trails, playgrounds, pavilions, and an ADA-compliant baseball field for universally accessible play. An extension of a city-wide walking trail along an adjacent creek with connecting loops throughout the park also was included.

Project/Park Program

The program for the park was daunting, making for a unique design challenge for all program elements within the constraints of the 140-acre site. Overall amenities included:

  • 12 baseball diamonds and 10 natural-turf multi-sport fields
  • Two multi-sport synthetic-turf fields
  • Miracle field/ADA-compliant field complex
  • Three pavilions
  • Four restroom/concession stations serving the field pods
  • Park headquarters and maintenance facilities
  • Two sets of grandstands with a press box
  • Park entrance and main drive
  • Two vehicular bridges over existing creek and wetland areas
  • Five parking lots with a total of 1,115 parking spaces
  • 5K walking/jogging trail
  • Four individual sports-themed playgrounds
  • Irrigation, subdrainage, and professional sports lighting at fields
  • Storm-water management/BMP features, including no-mow zones, permeable pavers, bio-filtration islands, and four filtration/detention basins
  • Interpretive and way-finding signage

Regional Significance

The impact of the park on the community was immediate; tourism numbers indicate upwards of $10 million in economic impact to Elizabethtown in the first year of operation. The park has also appeared in national publications, including Sport Destination Management Magazine and The New York Times, putting Elizabethtown on the sports-tourism map.

Unique Site-Design Issues

In addition to the task of planning for a sizable program in a relatively compact area, the site provided a number of design challenges:

  • Because of its proximity adjacent to Billy Creek, half of the natural-turf multi-sport fields had to be located in a designated 100-year floodplain. Therefore, subdrainage was specially designed for these fields, to dry them quickly for play and to help keep the subgrade drained.
  • Floodway limitations created a grading challenge, allowing only a maximum 6-inch fill in any location. Element Design graded the site to make certain all floodway and floodplain areas were not filled beyond their existing grades.
  • An emergent wetland identified by the Army Corps of Engineers had to be maintained; a bridge was constructed over the wetland to prevent disturbance.
  • Since the site was bisected by the creek, disturbance permits had to be coordinated with the Kentucky Division of Water, and a vehicular bridge was constructed at the creek to allow the opening of the existing channel to remain intact.
  • The baseball diamonds were located in an area of steeper slopes and grade changes in excess of 40 feet. The baseball quads, pavilion, and parking lot were graded to balance this area of the site, resulting in more than 500,000 cubic yards of balanced cut and fill that stayed on-site.

Storm-Water Management And Education

While storm-water quantity and quality management are always key site-design issues, the proximity of Billy Creek and its tributary made detaining and filtering run-off from the site imperative. The existing creeks also made for an educational opportunity to display the storm-water cycle from the time it rains to capturing, treating, detaining, and releasing it. The city also saw the park as a point for others developing property within the community to emulate. To that end, a series of storm-water management/best management practices were incorporated in the design:

In lawn areas, no-mow swales were designed to treat run-off from fields, drives, and some of the parking areas for first flush treatment.

Permeable pavers were used in parking bays in three of the large parking lots to infiltrate and treat run-off from the asphalt pavement.

Bio-filtration swales utilizing special soil mixes, native plants, and subdrainage systems were included in the two largest parking lots to help slow and treat run-off.

Four detention/infiltration basins were located on the site to hold piped run-off and allow storm water time to infiltrate and settle out any remaining particulates.

The largest wetland/detention area near the park entrance included a trail head, educational/interpretive signage about the storm-water treatment activities at the park, and a forebay feature to treat run-off as it initially enters the basin from the piped system upstream at the baseball diamonds.

It Takes A Team

With a project scope of $29 million, the Elizabethtown Sports Park stands as one of the largest constructed projects in the state, led by a landscape architecture firm from planning through design and during the 2-year construction period. The full design team included an architect, structural engineer, baseball field designer, mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer, and irrigation designer, as well as a construction manager. 5253 Design Group served as the architect for the project and was an essential part of the team, ensuring that the design of the park structures was successfully integrated into the design.

Lessons Learned

  • Many projects suffer through a “design by committee” process that drives budget decisions and material and product selection. It was important that the focus remained on the “user experience” throughout the design process. Asking what the visiting teams and families would want and need while in the park was a tool used throughout the process.
  • A multi-phased and construction-managed process created multiple-bid sets that in turn allowed for smaller local contractors to have a stake in the project. Traditional general contractor, lump-sum bidding would have limited the work to regional companies.
  • Early coordination with local utility companies to provide communications and electrical, water, and sewer services was a critical component to bringing the park on-line on time.

Ramona Fry is a registered Landscape Architect and partner for Element Design with 15 years of experience in project design and management. Her professional experience includes master planning, site design and development, preparation of construction documents, and contract administration. Reach her at