In 1974, a dedicated cadre of approximately 10 Louisville environmentalists gathered and soon afterwards formed an organization titled Wilderness Jefferson County, Inc. The sole purpose of this organization was advocating for the responsible use and preservation of wild lands in the area. Much of their efforts focused on the southwestern portion of the county and the expansion of Jefferson Memorial Forest (JMF). From 1974 when the organization was formed, until the mid-1980s, nearly 2,000 acres of land was acquired boosting JMF to approximately 5,000 acres by the late 1980s. This was a watershed era of JMF history, which now is recognized as the nation’s largest city-owned urban forest standing at approximately 6,600 acres of steep slopes covered with mature, second growth hardwood trees.
Recently, we said goodbye to Dudley Saunders, a former Louisville Arts Critic for the former Louisville Times. What may be lesser known was his passion for nature. Mr. Saunders was a long-time JMF Volunteer Trail Ranger and a founding member of Wilderness Jefferson County, Inc. (disbanded in the 1990s). Mr. Saunders was a major advocate for the protection and enhancement of JMF and was instrumental in the acquisition of a key parcel of land which connects the Tom Wallace, Horine, and the Paul Yost forest areas via a trail, which according to many, is affectionately known as Dudley’s Trail. Furthermore, he was one of the first board members of the current friends group for JMF, Wilderness Louisville, Inc. whose name pays tribute the earlier group that Dudley helped found.
Otto Mock, Chair, Louisville Parks Commission, and also a Trail Volunteer at JMF, remembers Mr. Saunders as a great cheerleader for JMF, and wilderness in general.
“Dudley knew all the right people,” said Mock. “He was the liaison between JMF and the private resources necessary to help grow and improve the forest.”
It’s no secret that public/private partnerships are a key strategy in efforts to care for our city’s forest and natural areas. But sweat equity is equally essential. Saunders logged countless hours surveying, building, patrolling and maintaining trails throughout the forest.
“Dudley was one of the original Trail Rangers joining the ranks in the mid-1990s when the program began,” said Larry Hilton, a retired Naturist at JMF.
JMF Volunteer Trail Rangers patrol and report on conditions and issues related to the forest’s trails and natural areas. They assist fellow trail users, when needed or requested, in areas such as trail directions, etiquette and safety. They routinely report on trail safety as well as maintenance issues. Volunteers are the backbone of this program. Trail Rangers assist JMF/Natural Areas Division staff in ensuring that the forest’s extensive network of trails are accessible, safe and fun!
According to Hilton, “Dudley’s legacy will be that of a dependable volunteer who was willing to negotiate for outside resources, but more importantly, was willing to get dirty to build/repair trails. His unwavering passion for making nature’s wonders available for others to experience is priceless.”
Saunders passed away a little more than a week ago at his home. He was 90.
Bennett Knox, JMF Administrator, remembers Saunders as one of the most genuine and positive people that have been associated with the Forest over its long history. “The Forest is in its 70th year and for the majority of existence it has benefited from Dudley as one of its greatest advocates. His advocacy was in both word and deed, but more importantly he was one who brought others together in camaraderie through his personal warmth and passion.”
The family of Dudley will honor his memory with a ceremonial tree planting on Saturday, November 3rd beginning at 2:00 p.m. at the Jefferson Memorial Forest Welcome Center (11311 Mitchell Hill Road). All are welcome to celebrate Dudley’s memory.
This might sound a bit cliché, but Dudley Saunders was a JMF “trailblazer”. His service to JMF will always be recognized and appreciated, and never forgotten.