Celebrating trees: the legend of the Bald Cypress tree

It is believed that this Bald Cypress tree in George Rogers Clark Park is the oldest tree in the Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation system.

NOTE: We’re celebrating trees in honor of Arbor Day during the month of April. This is the latest in an occasional series about Metro Parks and Recreation’s tree inventory. 

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Another one of our favorite trees is the historic Bald Cypress tree in George Rogers Clark Park just off Poplar Level Road across from Audubon Hospital.

This 200+ year old cypress tree, protected by a fenced enclosure, is the last truly historic tree remaining in Louisville. George Rogers Clark Park is the site of Mulberry Hill where John and Ann Clark’s (George Rogers Clark’s parents) original home was located. George Rogers Clark was the founder of Louisville, and a Revolutionary War general and hero at age 25. After the war, his entire family moved here from Virginia, and Mulberry Hill was built several miles outside of town in 1785. The entire family played a prominent role in Louisville, and the western frontier. George’s youngest brother was William, of Lewis & Clark fame.

Although none of the original structures remain, the old cypress tree that was near the spring house remains, bigger and more beautiful than it must have been 200+ years ago.

Several legends have sprung up about this old tree over the years.  One belief is that an Indian is buried under the tree.  Another story is about an Indian brave who’s body has been encased in this tree. He hid in the hollow trunk of the tree from George Rogers Clark.  The tree sensed the evil in his soul and started growing around his body and entrapping him.  His screams alerted Clark and others. When they arrived at the tree, they saw the twisted outline of the Indian’s body in the tree.

Tradition holds that George Rogers Clark planted the Cypress tree although another legend says that the tree sprouted from the spot where Clark thrust his walking stick into the ground. Yet another version says he thrust his riding whip into the ground. It then grew roots and became a tree.

The Bald Cypress is an interesting species of tree. Although many conifers are evergreen, bald cypress trees are deciduous conifers that shed their needle-like leaves in the fall. In fact, they get the name “bald” cypress because they drop their leaves so early in the season. Their fall colors are tan, cinnamon, and fiery orange.

The Bald Cypress can grow up to 120 feet tall with a trunk 3-6 feet in diameter. The typical lifespan of a Bald Cypress, which is a slow-growing tree, can live up to 600 years in age.

Bald cypress trees are valued for the rot-resistant heartwood of mature trees, and so they have been widely used to make fence posts, doors, flooring, caskets, cabinetry, boats, etc.

However, they are not harvested for timber as much anymore because they are slow-growing and there aren’t as many of them left. They usually grow in wetlands, which causes loggers much difficulty.

Bald cypresses have very important roles in the wild. Since they tend to grow along rivers and in wetlands, they are excellent at soaking up floodwaters and preventing erosion. They also trap pollutants and prevent them from spreading. Frogs, toads, and salamanders use bald cypress swamps as breeding grounds. Wood ducks nest in hollow trunks, catfish spawn in the submerged hollow logs, and raptors like bald eagles nest in the treetops.

Information for this story was gathered from the National Wildlife Foundation.


Celebrating trees during the month of April: the Osage Orange Tree.

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An inverted Osage Orange Tree play structure in Joe Creason Park.

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Osage orange is a unique tree with a remarkable history. No other tree in central North America has had such a long and close relationship with humans – both Native Americans and settlers.

The tree’s native range was a small area in western Arkansas, southern Oklahoma and parts of east Texas. Early explorers did find the trees growing near Osage Indian villages. And it was from the branch wood of the Osage orange tree that the Indians made their highly prized bows. Osage orange bow blanks and finished bows were prime items of barter among the tribes.

So sought after was the Osage orange bow, it was used by Shawnee and Wyandotte Indians in Ohio and the Blackfoot Indians in Montana. The bows must have been traded over a distance of 2,000 miles.

Indians had other uses for Osage orange. The stout wood was well suited for war clubs and tomahawk handles. The ridged and scaly bark of the trunk provided both a fiber for rope and tannin for making leather.

The roots and inner bark were used to make a light orange dye. Early pioneers adopted this dye for their homespun cloth and later it was used commercially to color the American forces’ olive drab uniforms during World War I.

Pioneers found more uses. The wood’s hardness and low shrinkage made it valuable for wagon wheel hubs and rims. Supposedly, the first chuck wagon ever built was made of Osage orange to withstand the terrible bumping of the Texas panhandle. Cattle yokes were fashioned from the many angled limbs.

As early as 1806 President Thomas Jefferson referred to the Osage orange in a message to Congress. He had heard from British explorers of the Arkansas country about the tree’s potential as a hedge plant, a potential soon to be realized.

A single row of hedge trees planted a foot apart would yield a fence that was “horse high, bullstrong, and hog-tight” in 4 years. Some farmers would weave the already twisted and intertwined limbs of the young trees tightly together, a technique known as “plashing,” for a more impenetrable barrier.


“Hedge mania,” as one newspaper called it, was rampant.

But in 1874, Osage orange met its match. A new invention, barbed wire, was now cheaper to use for fencing. Although the Osage orange planting storm had passed, the tree had been planted in all 48 contiguous states.

By the early 1900s the Osage orange hedge was said to be generally disliked by farmers. The plants needed annual trimming, sapped water from adjacent crop land and spread to adjacent fields.

The multiflora rose, being promoted by the Soil Conservation Service and Extension Service, offered an alternative stock-proof fence. (Like most exotic plant introductions, however, this species would later prove most undesirable.)

Many Osage orange hedges were removed and replaced with wire fences. Many were just left unmaintained. When the well-trimmed Osage orange hedges of the 1800s were allowed to grow, they matured into tall trees with spreading crowns.

These shelter-belts provided habitat for many wildlife species. Nesting sites, roosting cover, travel lanes and food from the plants that grew up under the trees were all provided by the hedgerow.

Most folks today, though, know it only for its distinctly ugly, almost otherworldly-looking fruit: an inedible, fleshy green orb the size of a grapefruit or large orange, with a warty, furrowed surface sparsely covered with long, coarse hairs.

When you break the globe open, it exudes a bitter, milky, sticky sap that eventually turns black and that gives some people an irritating rash.


Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation has several Osage Orange Trees within its inventory. The Osage Orange Tree above is located in Central Park. Others can be found in Joe Creason and Shawnee parks.

In fact, the department has repurposed an Osage Orange Tree as a play structure here at Creason Park.

It’s a 17-foot (was approximately 30 feet before being taken out by storm winds in Shawnee Park) Osage Orange Tree turned upside down and implanted back into the ground. The tree is believed to be about 50-60 years old.

So, that’s the Osage Orange Tree Story. Remember… the fruit from the tree is inedible!

Celebrating trees: This Tulip Poplar believed to be the largest in Metro Parks system

Poplar Tree
The tulip poplar tree is believed to be more than 130 feet tall and is 16.5 feet in circumference.

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Trees are really interesting creatures.  Like humans and animals, trees are shaped by genetics and environment. Genetic variations in the same species of a tree produces trees with differing shapes and branch structure, or maybe even more pronounced colors in the spring and fall.

Like all living creatures, trees live, they grow and they die.  Unlike humans and animals though, many species of trees can live much longer lives.

On a recent tour off the beaten path deep into Iroquois Park, Mike Blankenship, a Forestry Manager with Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation, provided a close-up of what is believed to be the largest tree in all of our 120 parks.

Standing approximately 120-130 ft. tall and 16 ft. 5 in. in circumference, this Tulip Poplar is approximately 100-150 years old.

The tulip poplar (also called tulip tree) is actually more closely related to magnolia than either a tulip or a poplar. The reference to tulips comes from the shape of the greenish yellow and orange flowers.  Other names include: Canoewood, Saddle-Leaf tree, and White Wood.  Canoewood refers to the tree’s use for construction of dug out canoes by eastern Native Americans, for which its fine grain and large trunk size is eminently suited.

American frontiersmen and Daniel Boone reportedly traveled with his family into the wilderness in a 60-foot-long tulip tree canoe during his exploration and later settlement of Kentucky.

Tulip poplar is one of the tallest of the native American hardwoods. Kentucky was home to some of the most magnificent of these stately trees. The Tulip Poplar tree is currently the state tree of Kentucky. The Kentucky Champion Tulip Poplar is 168 ft. tall and more than 18 ft. in circumference.  It’s located in Beaver Creek (McCreary County).

Mike Blankenship

Blankenship, who has worked for Metro Parks & Recreation for 17 years, is a second generation forestry employee.

Mike’s dad spent 31 years in the department prior to Mike’s tenure.

“My father brought me out here when I was a teenager.  Back then there were three of these big trees,” said Blankenship.  “We are now down to one.”

 Iroquois Park is the first of the three flagship parks (Cherokee and Shawnee are the other two).  Acquired in 1888, Iroquois sprawls over 725 acres south of the city.  Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned a scenic reservation on this rugged, steep, and heavily wooded hillside covered with old growth forest.

Uppill Road and other paths/trails were designed to dramatize the forested landscape and provide panoramic and scenic vistas of the land below and beyond.  According to the Cultural Landscape Foundation, Iroquois Park is joined only by Mount Royal in Montreal, Canada, as parks designed by Olmsted with a mountainous topography.

Don’t forget, during the month of April, Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation is celebrating trees! Find out how to get your free Tree Identification Poster at the link here.

Trees Keep Us Breathing!

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Metro Parks and Recreation Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

As Kentucky and other states nationwide celebrate Arbor Day during the month of April, Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation will be taking the entire month to draw attention to our city’s lovely and historical canopy of trees located within Metro Parks.

So, during the month of April, we’re going to be sharing interesting facts and photos about our diverse set of trees within our 13,000 acres, 120 parks and six parkways within Louisville, and we’re going to ask you to share pictures of your favorite Metro Parks trees with us on Instagram.

If you share your pics with us, you will have the opportunity to pick up a colorful Tree Identification Poster at our administrative office, located at 1297 Trevilian Way inside Joe Creason Park.

Your Arbor Day present – share a pic of your favorite tree with us on Instagram, and you will receive this awesome and colorful poster!

Since the beginning of time, trees have and continue to provide humans and animals with two of life’s essentials – food & oxygen.  As life evolves, so has the importance of trees which also provide shelter, food, medicine, fuel for cooking and heating, shade for cooling, tools, pulp for paper and so much more all throughout the planet.

Trees help prevent water pollution, increase property values, mitigate erosion, and shield humans from dangerous ultra-violet rays.

Did you know that a single tree absorbs 13-pounds of carbon dioxide per year?  For every ton of new tree wood that grows, approximately 1.5 tons of CO2 are removed from the air and 1.07 tons of life-giving oxygen is produced.

During a 50-year life span, a single tree will generate $30,000 in oxygen, recycle $35,000 worth of water, and clean up $60,000 worth of air pollution!

For many, the love of trees is not so scientific.   Folks love trees for all sorts of reasons.  Maybe it’s because of the canopy that trees provide for picnics, cookouts, and/or just relaxing outside.  Others love trees because they provide a structure for climbing and/or building backyard treehouses.  Maybe it’s the firewood used to heat homes, churches, or fills your favorite school notebook (paper).

A love for trees doesn’t stop with just human.  Birds, squirrels, and other animals love trees too!  Trees provide a birds and other animals a place for building nests, or as a landing spot for a short rest.  In addition, they provide animals a safe place to hide as well as a food source.  What about all of the food which grows on trees?  Items such as nuts, apples, oranges, pears, peaches,and bananas?

Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation LOVES trees too!  We are home to approximately eight million trees of 270 different species.

The majority of our trees reside on 6,600+ acres in Jefferson Memorial Forest where our Natural Areas Division, led by Bryan Lewis,  cares for the trees as well as trees on other park properties where nature is the focus.

These areas include mature forests, lakes, wetlands, riparian areas, and meadows – places where one can experience the wonder of nature while hiking, fishing, horseback riding, birding, or simply relaxing.

Our Forestry Division is led by Dr. Mesude Duyar-Ozyurekoglu.  She and her team are responsible for maintenance of trees in parks and along our six Olmsted-designed parkways.

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They manage a tree inventory of approximately 32,000 trees in our 120 parks, as well as trees along our six Olmsted-designed parkways.  The Forestry Division has developed a comprehensive geographic information system (GIS) based tree inventory of its park land.  The inventory captures such information as the species, location, height, diameter, health, and more.  In addition, the Forestry Division has been busy planting more than 1,000 trees along the parkways.

One of the greatest threats to our tree canopy in Louisville is from an insect called the Emerald Ash Borer (EAB), which was introduced to North America from Asia in the 1990’s.

Forestry officials estimate that ash trees made up almost 13 percent of the canopy along the Olmsted Parkways and in the Metro Parks system prior to 2010, when the pest was first discovered.  During the last seven years the canopy has seen a five percent loss due to ash mortality. Metro Parks’ Forestry Department expects most of the majority of Ash trees to succumb to EAB.

As members of this community, our trees are your trees, and we take the responsibility of taking care of them seriously. Do you have one that stands out as a favorite? If so, hit us up on Instagram by submitting pictures of your favorite tree(s).  Be sure to tell us why you love this particular tree, and share fond memories of it.

When you’re done, be sure to stop by Joe Creason Park and pick up your tree identification poster, beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 5. We’ll make them available through 5 p.m. on Friday, April 28. Only one poster will be awarded per person and per picture. Consider that our Arbor Day present to you. Thanks for your support!

Questions? Contact us.

Meet the BT Stitchers

BT Stitchers
The BT Stitchers, from l-r, include Hattie Downs, Ruth Morrow and Elsie Trowell. 

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Hattie Downs, Ruth Morrow and Elsie Trowell are avid sewers and knitters.

They participate in a program at the Watson Powell Senior Center (an affiliate of the Berrytown Recreation Center) known as BT Stitchers, which is a sewing group that teaches anyone from children to seniors how to sew. The program began approximately ten years ago by Downs who, at the time, had recently retired from UPS. She wanted to recast her career as a volunteer.

BT Stitchers has made curtains for homes built by Hand in Hand Ministries in Belize, pillows and blankets for neighborhood children, as well as mend uniforms donated to nearby Middletown Elementary School. The group has also made gloves and hats to go with coats that were given away as part of the Santa Train, which gives presents to children in Appalachia.

In 2013, Downs was a WLKY Bell Award winner as well as a Metro Volunteer Service Award. Currently, there are about 17 participants in the program. Average daily attendance is about 7-8. Several of the participants in Metro Parks & Recreation’s Adapted and Inclusive Recreation (AIR) program participants have recently started to participate. Downs, along with Morrow and Trowell are usually at the Watson Powell Building daily sewing and knitting.

If you’re interested in learning more about this program, and/or other programs at the Berrytown Recreation Center, contact Brent Priddy at 456-8148, or log onto: https://louisvilleky.gov/government/parks/berrytown-recreation-centerhome-air-program.

Massive restoration effort to preserve history at Portland Wharf Park


By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
e-mail Walter 

Before highways and railroads, the river served the great transportation needs of a young nation. Though smoother and faster than travel by foot, river travel was fraught with danger and delay. One such obstacle was located on the river near Portland and Louisville where travelers encountered the dangerous 28-foot drop at the Falls of the Ohio.

General William Lytle of Cincinnati owned the land next to the harbor below the Falls and in 1811 laid out the town of Portland. He planned to sell the lots to finance his plan to build a canal around the Falls. The town grew as travelers portaged around the Falls and later when steamboats made it possible to come up river.

Later, the port served as the terminus of the New Orleans run. Lytle never fulfilled his dream of building a canal but in 1829, an innovative three-tier lock system allowed the Louisville and Portland canal to by-pass the Falls. The reduced time and effort to pass the Falls improved river traffic and the Portland Wharf expanded into a bustling riverside town.

Today, Metro Parks serves to protect and share this rich maritime past of Portland Wharf Park through the support of partners in the Portland community. Plans for sharing important resources include interpretive exhibits and educational opportunities within and outside the park boundaries. Archaeological and Interpretive work is conducted in cooperation with the Portland Museum, the University of Kentucky and the Kentucky Archaeological Survey.

Portland Wharf Park preserves the remains of the original and oldest part of the town of Portland once a thriving and bustling nineteenth century river town. The park encompasses 55 acres (consisting of six city blocks) along the banks of the Ohio River, just below the Falls, and the entrance to the Portland Canal. It is primarily a forested environment with dense trees and undergrowth interrupted by symmetrical swaths of mowed grass and an open meadow.

The site is bound by a railroad bridge on the east, the Ohio River on the north, a golf course on the west, and an earthen levee and elevated interstate highway on the south. Portland Wharf Park is designated as a National Historic Landmark, and is maintained by Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation. The archaeological remains of the town (Portland Proper), including streets, sidewalks, building foundations, privies, cisterns, and thousands of artifacts dating from the early 1800s to the early 1900s are preserved in several areas of the site.

The largest threat to the preserving this site is the unstable riverbank as shown in photos like the one below:


To address this issue, the US Army Corp of Engineers has evaluated the streambank erosion problems along the Ohio River within the Portland Wharf Park boundary heading westward along the paved river walk (Louisville Loop) trail, and have located two erosion locations within River Mile 607.4 and 607.6.

In addition, similar erosion issues exist between River Mile 610.1 and 610.6. The Riverbank Stabilization Project at Portland Wharf Park is set to begin this spring.

Recent photos in this post were taken Tuesday, February 14, 2017, as part of a coordinated effort between the US Corp of Engineers and Louisville Metro Parks and Recreation to rescue historical stone materials from the original Portland Wharf.


The stones will be used for future interpretive elements at park.

What’s in a name? William H. Britt Park established in 1975


By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

William H. Britt Park was originally named MINI-PARK B by the City of Louisville and the Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Board in 1971 with a permanent name to follow.

Prior to becoming a park, the site formally consisted  of many single family, bungalow-type, dwellings which were substandard and at the request of the neighborhood organization, the property was acquired and designed to meet the needs of the elderly residents who desired a passive open space.

It is across the street from Elliott Park, a 3.9 acre piece of land which provides multi-recreational facilities.

In 1975, following a request from Mary Green, a member of the Russell Area Council, MINI-PARK B was renamed in honor William H. Britt.

Mr. Britt was a strong and dedicated neighborhood leader in the Russell Neighborhood, and had spearheaded the efforts to create the park.   Mr. Britt was one of original members of the Russell Area Council.

So… following a vote from the Louisville Board of Alderman, MINI-PARK B became William H. Britt Memorial Park.