What do you do when you discover a pristine natural area filled with rare plants that few people have ever seen? If you make that information public, well-intentioned nature lovers flock to the site and trample it or, worse, collect the rare species.
How do you share your passion for Kentucky’s natural history without compromising its existence? It is a dilemma every naturalist faces.
If you have the knowledge and photographic skills of Dr. Tom Barnes, you write a book. Kentucky’s Last Great Places is that book. The title speaks of the rarity of Kentucky’s remaining quality natural areas. It also speaks of the urgency to protect, preserve, and manage what is left of the special places in the Commonwealth.
Dr. Barnes, as associate Extension professor of forestry at the University of Kentucky, provides a panoramic view of Kentucky’s places, people, plants, and animals. I know of no other work that combines Kentucky’s preservation history and natural history with outstanding nature photography. I highly recommend this book.
Dr. Barnes takes us through the history of preservation in Kentucky by highlighting the efforts of the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, the Kentucky Chapter of the Nature Conservancy, and others. He has artfully organized this history to include the heroes of the conservation movement, including names like Mary Wharton, Roger Barbour, Wayne Davis, Bill Martin, Bill Bryant, Hunter Hancock, and others who have followed the passion and vision to provide future Kentuckians the opportunity to enjoy Kentucky’s last great places.
The beauty of this book is not only in chronicling the rich history but also providing an outstanding photo essay of Kentucky’s fauna and flora.
Among his peers, Dr. Barnes is considered one of the premier nature photographers in the state, and he captures the beauty and uniqueness of Kentucky’s nature preserves. Providing these photos is the next best thing to visiting the site, and a necessary tool since many of the preserves are not open to the public.
Even if you have no interest in the history of the conservation movement, the photos make this book an outstanding addition to your coffee table collection. It fits nicely alongside the works of James Archambeault and Dr. Thomas Clark.
Along with the history and photos, Dr. Barnes dedicates an entire chapter to the discussion of biological diversity in Kentucky, covering the species at risk, biodiversity rankings, and a listing of activities that are forbidden in these protected areas. This section of the book will be of interest to academics and conservationists alike.
The heart of this book is the guided tour of Kentucky’s last great places by way of the physiographic regions. Testimonies to the diversity of Kentucky are the changes in climate, topography, geology, and plant and animal life that make this state so incredible.
Dr. Barnes begins the journey with a visit to the few remaining natural areas in the Bluegrass Region of central Kentucky. It takes more effort to find the last great places in the Bluegrass, but according to Dr. Barnes, it is time well-spent. Once a grand savanna, settlement has drastically changed this region’s landscape.
A few places of mention are the palisades (home of the rare snow trillium), Raven Run Nature Preserve, Floracliff Nature Preserve, and Lloyd Woods. Two of Kentucky’s endangered plant species—Short’s goldenrod and the Running Buffalo clover—are located in the Bluegrass Region.
The Knobs is the next region we visit. It is the transition region between the Outer Bluegrass and the Cumberland Plateau to the east, and the Mississippian Plateau to the south and west.
One great place that is open to the public is Pilot Knob in Powell County, where Daniel Boone is reported to have stood when he first looked over the Bluegrass. In addition to the rolling hills, the Knobs are also the home of limestone glades. These glades are biologically significant and home to some of the rarest plants in Kentucky, such as the Indian paintbrush and the recently discovered ear-leaf foxglove.
Next Dr. Barnes takes us to eastern Kentucky to visit the Cumberland Plateau and the Cumberland Mountains. There is no way in a few sentences to do justice to the great places listed in this chapter.
Eastern Kentucky is home to the Daniel Boone National Forest, Red River Gorge, Black Mountain, Pine Mountain, and Breaks Interstate Park, to mention a few. The rare plants and animals are too numerous to list. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
One of Dr. Barnes’ favorite regions is the Pennyroyal. He is an authority on the biology of glades, barrens, and prairies, and his love of these places is apparent.
The barrens and cedar glades of the Pennyroyal are home to numerous rare species such as sundew (our only insectivorous plant), narrow-leafed coneflower, and Gattinger’s lobelia. Also included in this chapter is a trip to Green River and Mammoth Cave. Home of endangered mussels and blind cave fish, the Pennyroyal is home to many of our most threatened species.
We work our way west to conclude our tour with a visit to the marshes and wetlands of the Shawnee Hills and the East Gulf Coastal Plain. Rare plants, fish, amphibians, and reptiles thrive in this region. It is home to numerous species of birds, including the bald eagle and the snowy egret.
The great places to the west include the Sloughs Wildlife Management Area, West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area, John James Audubon State Park, and Land Between the Lakes. Biologically diverse streams and wetlands such as Obion Creek, the Bayou de Chien, and Murphy’s Pond are also discussed.
Dr. Barnes not only takes us on a visit to the great places of Kentucky, but he introduces us to many of the friends he has met along the way. Visiting these places is one thing, sharing them with someone is another. Dr. Barnes dedicates this book to his children. Preserving the natural history of Kentucky is his passion. Preserving it for the next generation is his motivation.
I believe you will share his passion and motivation after reading Kentucky’s Last Great Places.