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Exploring Our Nature Preserves

I hereby resolve to visit at least six Kentucky State Nature Preserves during the year 2004. This will leave six for 2005 and another six for 2006, and I’ll still not be finished.

Kentucky presently has 44 State Nature Preserves, and there’s probably one close to where everybody lives.

This idea of caring and walking the walk came to me after I discovered the Jesse Stuart State Nature Preserve in Greenup County. It includes 714 acres and there are protected trails to gladden and maybe strengthen most hearts. (But of course, always check with your doctor about how much exercise is right for you!)

I drove over to Frankfort, located the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission office, 801 Schenkel Lane, (502) 573-2886, and introduced myself to the folks who know the many differences among wildflowers, fish, and wild animals—and their inalienable right to live as close to nature as the Great Creator intended.

Here are some suggestions from the Directory of Kentucky State Nature Preserves, about where to go and what to expect:

Blanton Forest: More than 3,000 acres in Harlan County with trees as much as three to four feet in diameter, as high as 100 feet tall—oaks, hemlocks, and many other kinds of canopy trees. Watch out for the snakes, and remember, they are protected too!

John B. Stephenson Memorial Forest: A 124-acre wooded gorge with two waterfalls in Rockcastle County, this preserve honors the memory of the former president of Berea College. Anglin Falls and Venable Falls are there for the viewing. Be careful about the slippery rocks!

The Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve: Formerly Kentucky River Authority Palisades, it was renamed in honor of the former director and commission chairman of the Kentucky River Authority. It is only accessible from the Garrard County side of the Kentucky River. Beware of extremely high cliffs. The views from boats are breathtaking.

Goodrum Cave: Located in Allen County, Goodrum Cave is the commission’s first purchase of a cave for the protection of an endangered bat species. Access is by written permission only. This site protects a maternity colony for 13,000 gray myotis bats, listed by the State Nature Preserve Commission as one of three federally endangered bats found in Kentucky.

Floracliff: Located on the Kentucky River in Fayette County, Floracliff was established by the late Dr. Mary Wharton of Georgetown College. One description says, “Below Elk Lick Falls is a tufa formation, which resembles a frozen waterfall.” Visitation is by appointment only and is restricted to small groups led by approved leaders.

So, this might represent the first six preserves to visit. The second set might include: Crooked Creek Barrens in Lewis County; Lower Howard’s Creek Heritage Park in Clark County; Three Ponds and Obion Creek in Hickman County (by written permission only to visit either site). In the same area is the Kentucky portion of Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge in Fulton County; Kingdom Come State Park is in Letcher County (strict rules of access due to the federally endangered Indiana bat). But the trip I’ve been saving up for—Bad Branch in Letcher County. This preserve contains Bad Branch Gorge, “a forested gorge on the south face of Pine Mountain…one of the most significant and beautiful natural areas in the state.”

After I’ve done all this during the next two years, I’m still not halfway finished! So many miles to go, so many trails to hike, so many sunrises and sunsets to witness, so many pictures to take with my own mind’s eye.

No need for a passport, no clearing customs and immigration, no standing in line at ticket counters and currency exchange windows.

For the life of me, I can’t imagine forking over perfectly good money for a Caribbean cruise or a grand tour of Europe—at least not until I’ve run out of things to enjoy here so close to home.

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