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Metro Parks Newsroom

Toyota Supports Louisville ECHO Environmental Education Program

Wednesday November 18, 2009

Some of Mary Minyard’s students have so little opportunity to interact with nature that walking into the woods can be an overwhelming experience.

“We’re trying to break down the barriers that prevent children from being comfortable in the outdoors, by encouraging them to explore nature,” said Minyard, who is principal of Young Elementary School in Louisville. “This promotes the International Baccalaureate philosophy, by encouraging them to become better stewards of green space, and more globally responsive citizens.” Young is a candidate school for the International Baccalaureate program.

Young is one of four urban elementary schools taking part in Louisville ECHO (engaging children outdoors), an environmental education program that Louisville Metro Parks offers to fourth- and fifth-grade students. The program seeks to give schoolchildren a closer relationship to nature while influencing their health and academic achievement. Lessons are closely tied to the students’ school curriculum. The other elementary schools taking part are King, Portland and Cane Run.

The program is managed by staff at Jefferson Memorial Forest, which the 304 students in the program get to visit after spending some time learning about nature in a park near their school. The program concludes with a trip to the Red River Gorge Geological Area in the Daniel Boone National Forest.

City officials and representatives from Jefferson County Public Schools gathered in Chickasaw Park on Wednesday to celebrate a $5,000 contribution from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky to the Louisville Metro Parks Foundation for Louisville ECHO. Students from Young Elementary worked alongside staff from Metro Parks, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy and Toyota to plant trees and pick up litter in the park.

“Louisville Engaging Children Outdoors really got our attention because it encompasses three key target areas for Toyota – environment, education, and children,“ said Kim Menke, Manager, Community Relations, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky.

Toyota supports projects that compliment the company’s own focus on environmental stewardship, sustainability and green products, said Menke.

“As a local government, we do everything we can to enhance the variety of educational opportunities available through our Jefferson County Public Schools,” said Mary Gwen Wheeler, who is Mayor Jerry Abramson’s senior advisor on education. “Giving children meaningful interactions with nature is a great way to extend their classroom lessons into their community and build their interest in protecting our environment.”

Louisville ECHO received seed money in 2008 from the U.S. Forest Service, through their More Kids in the Woods program. The Forest Service provided additional financial support for the current school year, and their staff leads students through the Red River Gorge each year.

Metro Councilwoman Judy Green (D-1) provided $500 from her district’s funds to support the program, which also receives in-kind assistance from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The Olmsted Parks Conservancy provides trees to plant and staff to participate in the students’ learning process.

Anyone interested in joining Toyota Georgetown and the project’s other supporters in expanding this program to additional schools should contact the Louisville Metro Parks Foundation at 502/456-1857.

Jefferson Memorial Forest, the nation’s largest municipal urban forest at 6,218 acres, is a woodland tribute to those Kentucky veterans who have served our nation during times of war. Outdoor environmental education programs are offered at the forest, providing learning opportunities for thousands of students and teachers each year. The forest offers a full range of recreational amenities, including weekend education and adventure programs, hiking trails, camping, fishing, horseback riding trails and picnic areas. For more information or to volunteer, go to

Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky (TMMK) is located in Georgetown, Ky., and is Toyota’s largest manufacturing facility in North America employing about 7,000 team members. Initially, TMMK hired team members from 116 of Kentucky’s 120 counties and continues its philosophy of giving back to the communities where its team members live. TMMK has the capacity to produce 500,000 vehicles and engines annually. Its products include the Camry, Camry Hybrid, Avalon and Venza, as well as V6 and four-cylinder engines and engine components. Since arriving in Georgetown in 1986, TMMK has distributed more than $34 million in gifts and sponsorships across Kentucky. For more information about TMMK, please go to