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Weekend Wanderings

Walking among wildflowers

Kentucky claims about 400 different wildflowers.
While some of them have been blooming since March, the peak wildflower season
is April. Each week, in successive waves, additional species burst forth, carpeting
the ground with light and color.

Formal wildflower walks in April are getting to be
as popular as foliage hunts in October. But as interesting as these guided flower
treks can be, they tend to get crowded and your pace is often set by a naturalist
or park ranger. If you want to lag behind to photograph or just admire a particular
blossom, it’s hard to do it. So for a fun adventure, we suggest you grab a field
guide to wildflowers and head off on your own.

There are several such field guides available. We
like A Guide to the Wildflowers & Ferns of Kentucky by Mary E. Wharton
and Roger W. Barbour. Large photos and clear descriptions make it easy to identify
the flowers of our state.

Where do you find wildflowers? Virtually anywhere:
in roadside swales and deep woods; city parks and state forests; nature preserves
and abandoned homesteads.

We like to make a weekend out of wildflower walks,
using a city or large town as a base, then hub-and-spoking to the small, relatively
unknown pocket parks and conservation plots that abound near every urban center.

Take Lexington, for example. You can settle in at
a bed and breakfast or hotel, with all the restaurants and other amenities close
at hand, and spend the daylight hours exploring the flowers that have popped
up that particular week. There are the obvious locales, such as the Lexington
Cemetery and the Kentucky Horse Park, where you can see numerous species. But
there are other areas, just a short drive from the city center, that are even
more appealing.

Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, less than 12 miles from
downtown Lexington, for instance, is a 374-acre city park dedicated to preserving
the flora and fauna of the Kentucky River Palisades region. Along its eight
miles of trails grow 300 varieties of wildflowers. In addition, the park contains
one of the few remaining undeveloped limestone gorges in the state. Plus you
might spot otherwise rare animals, such as the least weasel and nine-banded

For Raven Run information, contact: Lexington-Fayette
Urban County Division of Parks and Recreation, 545 North Upper St., Lexington,
KY 40508, (859) 288-2900. Or call the park directly at (859) 272-6105.

Raven Run is a special place. But it’s not the only
one. To the west of Lexington, for instance, is the Clyde Buckley Wildlife Sanctuary,
(859) 873-5711, where, at any one time, 30 or more wildflower varieties can
be seen from its three nature paths. Or head south half an hour to the Berea
College Forest, (859) 985-3587, where 19 miles of trails help you enjoy the
wildflowers of the Knobs topography.

Such green areas are by no means confined to Lexington
or even to central Kentucky. Virtually every major city and many not so major
ones are surrounded by small parks and recreation areas filled with wildflowers.

For example, near Bowling Green is the obvious appeal
of the 50,000 surface acres and 70 trail-miles of Mammoth Cave National Park.
But there are the more intimate green areas in and about town, such as Lost
River Valley and Cave.

Lost River Valley is most known for its cave (in
which Jesse James and his gang are said to have hidden after robbing the Russellville
bank), and for the river itself, said to be the "shortest, deepest river
in the world." But the area is filled with wildflowers, many of which can
be seen from the two major trails that form a loop around the narrow valley.

For information, contact: Bowling Green-Warren County
Tourist Commission, 352 Three Springs Rd., Bowling Green, KY 42104, (270) 782-0800.

A short drive west of Bowling Green, near Russellville,
is the Logan County Glade State Nature Preserve, which protects remnants of
the original prairie vegetation that grew in the "Big Barrens" region
when settlers first arrived. Contact: Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission,
801 Schenkel Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601, (502) 573-2886 for details.

Indeed, it seems, the closer you are to population
centers, the more likely you are to find these small conservation plots and
pocket parks. Northern Kentucky is dotted with small wild areas, such as Quiet
Trails State Nature Preserve, Boone County Cliffs State Nature Preserve, and
the Fort Thomas Landmark Tree Trail.

Or check out the greenways in the Henderson-Owensboro
corridor, including Yellow Creek and Panther parks. Contact: Daviess County
Parks and Recreation Department, 5620 Highway 144, Owensboro, KY 42303, (270)
281-5346, or Audubon State Park, P.O. Box 576, Henderson, KY 42420, (270) 826-2247.

Day Trips & Short

Governor Laffoon’s cabin

Kentucky’s governors have come from diverse backgrounds.
Some were wealthy, others poor as dirt. Some grew up in fancy mansions, and
others were lucky to have a roof over their head.

Former Governor Ruby Laffoon belongs in the low-end
group. His birthplace and boyhood home was a post-Civil War log cabin in rural
Hopkins County. It has since been moved to Madisonville and refurbished, and
now stands in a small park on Union Street.

Built about 1865, more than a third of the logs are
original, and you can clearly see the marks left by the hand-wielded broad ax.
Inside are furnishings from the time Laffoon grew up, including a marble-topped
dresser and table that are original to the cabin.

Beside the cabin walls are three gardens maintained
and interpreted by the Pennyroyal Herb Club: a medicinal garden, a cooking garden,
and a fragrance garden. Each is filled with appropriate herb plants. April being
planting time, you are likely to run into one of the herb club members, who’ll
be glad to fill you in on what is being planted and why.

Next door to the Laffoon Cabin is the Hopkins County
Museum, which, like the cabin, is maintained by the local historical society.
Filled with furnishings and artifacts, the museum tells the story of Madisonville
and Hopkins County.

To tour either building, contact: Hopkins County
Historical Society, 107 Union Street, Madisonville, KY 42431, (270) 821-3986.

Outdoor Log

Crappie time

Throughout the Commonwealth, April is synonymous
with "crappie." It’s now that the big slabs turn on, providing many
a fish dinner for area anglers.

Kentucky and Barkley lakes were once the "in"
spots for big crappie. But in recent years, fishermen have discovered that many
of our waters hold big papermouths. Every year another lake is "discovered"
as a previously little known hot spot.

Barren River Lake, near Glasgow, is one of those
unknown fisheries where crappie receive only moderate fishing pressure. Yet
the success rates, for those in the know, are high.

What keeps the pressure down is the lake’s reputation
for yielding smaller fish. This is somewhat justified, because most of the population
are black crappie, averaging about 10 inches. However, there is also a strong
population of white crappie, which average more like 12 inches in length and
near a pound in weight.

Overall, this time of year you’ll find crappie in
the secondary creek channels back in the embayments. They’ll be either along
the creek channel drop-offs that lead to shallows or, if the water temperature
is right, in thin-water spawning areas.

According to Art Lander, author of A Fishing Guide
to Kentucky’s Major Lakes
, "the best crappie fishing is in the tributaries-Beaver,
Skaggs, and Peter creeks in the lower lake, and Walnut Creek at midlake."

All the usual crappie tactics work, from pop-eye
jigs to hanging a minnow under a bobber. One of the more productive techniques
is to rig a pair of lightweight jigs-1/32 to 1/8 ounce-under a bobber. Usually
there is enough surface movement to lend an enticing movement to the jigs, and
no other action is needed. You have to pay close attention, however, because
takes tend to be very gentle and hard to detect-especially when the jigs are
suspended eight or more feet below your boat.

Our preferred method is a more active rig we learned
from Randall Taylor over on Lake Barkley. Randall threads a 2-inch twisty tail
grub onto a 3/8-ounce round-head jig. "You can use any color grub as long
as it’s white," he says with a grin. Jig head color doesn’t seem to matter,
and even unpainted ones work.

For information about spring crappie fishing, contact
Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, #1 Gamefarm Road, Frankfort,
KY 40601, (800) 858-1549.

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