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
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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: 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.

Project Update: Beargrass Creek Trail Shared Use Path

By Lisa Hite
Senior Planner
e-mail Lisa

Metro Parks and Recreation and the Army Corps of Engineers recently hosted its second public meeting on the “Beargrass Creek Trail Conceptual Shared Use Path and Ecological Restoration Plan” that will link the Cherokee Park area with the Ohio River via a shared-use path. The plan has drawn a lot of attention from the cycling community and citizens throughout Louisville.

The latest meeting, at the Clifton Center, included a bit of background from the last meeting held in August including comments, suggestions, concerns we received then.

A detailed discussion of several alternatives throughout the stream corridor from Lexington/Grinstead to the confluence with the Ohio, including a little bit of the South Fork of the creek, also followed.

Some alternatives have some pretty big and cool ideas such as following the old route of the Big Four rail line as it came south of the river into the city and using a spiraling bridge structure similar to what Waterfront Park has at the Big Four Bridge. They are calling it “The Little Big Four Bridge. ” It would be the most costly, but is about the only way to have a route that follows the creek, stays off the street, and is able to navigate the big obstacles such as existing railroad, interstate highway and a bridge over the creek that has no possibility of a path going under it. It would be an amazing, iconic landmark if it were to go forward.

There are other more circuitous, partially on-street routes which are less costly as well.

There was a good Q & A after the presentation. Mostly the questions were about how would this be funded, possible timeline, “what does it take for the project to go forward”-kind of questions. There was interest in a nearby impound lot and doing something more productive and environmentally friendly with that. There was a lot of interest in the stream restoration ideas.

At the next meeting, possibly in early December, will present final recommendations about the routes and stream restoration after comments from this meeting have been considered.

If you’d like to check out the presentation from the Oct. 17 meeting, please click here.
Warning, it’s a sizable file, but it’s worth opening and checking out!

New Neighbors At Cherokee Park

By Aaron Henry
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It looks like Cherokee Park has had a number of new visitors lately. According to recent research, a variety of salamanders have started gathering near the spring by Big Rock. Thanks to the dedicated research of Dr. Joseph Bradley from the University of Louisville, who has been studying the behaviors of different species of salamanders.

Along the creek there is a long limestone wall, in which a spring is running out of a small cavity in the rock down to the creek. This spring provides suitable wet habitat for certain species of salamanders. There are many crevices and rocky areas used as refuge to take cover for these critters. This area also provides plenty of food for them as well. There are a number of insects and worms attracted to the area they can chow down on near the spring.

Dusky salamander

(Dusky salamander)

There are four distinct species that have been identified and monitored: Dusky salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus), Cave salamanders (Eurycea lucifuga)Zigzag salamanders (Plethodon dorsalis), and Midland mud salamanders (Pseudotriton montanus). These were all found in or directly around that spring issuing from the limestone wall. On the most active nights, Dr. Bradley found 80-100+ individuals of which the majority were dusky salamanders.

Behavior wise, dusky salamanders are very aggressive, whereas cave salamanders are somewhat passive. Dusky salamanders have also been directly tied to the spring, whereas other species could often be found near the spring, or around the vegetation and the limestone wall. It’s surprising to see so many salamanders due to how frequently people visit the park.

(Cave Salamander)

Cave salamander

Cave salamanders are very good climbers, and thus do well around limestone formations where they can climb into cracks in the wall. However, Zigzag and mud salamanders were only active for a short period of time while researching. All these species are nocturnally active, hiding under cover, in burrows, or in crevices during the day.

Dusky salamanders and zigzag salamanders blend in very well with their environment. They are both some mixture of tan, brown, and gray. Cave and mud salamanders are quite the opposite, both being bright orange to red with black spots; this is “aposematic coloration,” meaning they advertise their bad taste to potential predators.

ZigZag salamander                                                          (Zigzag Salamander)

What all of these species share in common is they are plethodontid salamanders. A major unifying and interesting characteristic of this type of salamander is that they are lungless; gas exchange predominantly occurs across the skin, even though they are terrestrially active.

midland mud salamander

(Midland Mud Salamander)

Evidence has shown with the removal of Bush Honeysuckle, amphibian species numbers should increase over time. This could be due to the fact that honeysuckle is poisonous to a number of animals. There is still so much to learn about our new guests, but in the meantime we are happy to have our new aquatic friends, and they can stay as long as they want.

The Trail Less Travelled

By Aaron Henry
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Fairmount Trail

Louisville offers a wide variety parks to choose from, however some of these local treasures can be overlooked because there are so many. Here are two exciting parks just off the beaten path you should explore!

Fairmount Falls Park

A beautiful park tucked away just off of Thixton Lane, Fairmount Falls provides a wonderful terrain to traverse. It’s important to point out that Fairmount is by permit only in order to preserve the natural beauty of the park. In the spring there are a number of wildflowers that grow along the hillside.

As I began my journey along the trail I noticed the moss covered rock formation at the entrance and how it marked the beginning of my adventure. I then reached the crossing of Hidden Creek Lane and I could hear the rushing water of the falls. The trail led right to the edge of the cliff in order to marvel at this spectacular sight.

I then realized that my path continued directly across the stream and stand on top of the falls themselves. I gazed at the vastness of the area, listened to the pounding current and felt the mist upon my face. I carried on along the trail, just off the side of the cliff. It followed a winding path all the way down the hillside and up again.

The land was originally by owned George Weber in 2002. It was originally a part of the Hidden Creek Farms, which is the name of the stream that flows over the falls. The land was purchased with the help of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

This purchase also took place around the time of the merger between the Jefferson County and the city of Louisville. Weber wrote about a very interesting plant that grows in this area call Job’s Tears. The previous owner, Mr. Weber wrote a small description of this plant and how he used the bead-like seeds to fashion a teething ring for his little sister, when he was younger. They resemble wooden beads and are often used to make rosary beads.

Caperton Swamp

Caperton Swamp Park

Caperton Swamp is another overlooked park just off of River Road.

The park’s winding trail allows you to journey through the marshy landscape, and loops around a beautiful pond.  In the summer, the pond will dry up and provide a perfect habitat for a number of reptiles and amphibians.

On the other side of the trail you can see the timber has settled in standing water. It is also known as “wet woodlands,” which means the soil is flooded for over half the year. Due to this unique ecosystem, Caperton offers a very different experience than other parks within the city.

Caperton is also known to be a great place to view various species of birds. Over 187 types have been spotted in this area. Personally, on my trip through Caperton, I listened to a melody of bird calls and even spotted two woodpeckers just off the trail.

Another interesting fact is it is a Nature Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. This means there cannot be any form of construction and hunting is not allowed.

This is part of the deed restrict held by the deed owners. The land was acquired with the help of River Fields, Inc. over the course of several years, between 1980 and 1988.

Caperton Arch
One structure did however exist in this area; the Caperton Arch was originally an entrance way onto the Caperton estate. Due to the concern of its condition, it carefully relocated to Mockingbird Gardens on Brownsboro Road in 1990.

So, if you’re feeling adventurous or interested in discovering something new about Louisville, lace up your boots and visit these hidden gems within the city.


Jefferson Memorial Forest’s Canoemobile Adventure Event

canoe2Last weekend, I had the pleasure of traveling down to the beautiful Riverview Park to capture some photos of Jefferson Memorial Forest’s Canoemobile Event, which offers free canoe rides for individuals and/or families. But before I could even get the camera out, I was once again enthralled by the beauty of this park. It’s a hidden oasis of 46+ acres running along the Ohio River in Southwest Jefferson County at the end of Greenwood Road. I must admit, Riverview Park is one of my favorite parks in the city. Why? This park is situated along the river bank, offering a quiet, picturesque view of the Ohio with a backdrop of lush landscape highlighted by crisp, green leaves with hints of blazing orange and red foliage amidst the rolling tree canopy.   It’s beautiful!

As I pulled out the camera, I rushed down to the water to capture a couple of families arriving back to the dock after their paddling experience; the grandparents and their grandchildren, along with a father of two boys, all smiling ear to ear! For the children, this was their first paddling experience. Moments later, another canoe arrived filled with young ladies participating in a YMCA mentoring program from Southern Indiana. While still a little nervous, two of the participants told me that they had a blast! All admitted this was their first time canoeing, but it wouldn’t be their last.

That’s exactly what organizers wanted to hear. The purpose of the Canoemobile program is to introduce youngsters and families to canoeing and other outdoor activities, all aimed at promoting environmental education and stewardship and physical activity in the outdoors. The program is also part of larger urban outdoor initiative with the United States National Park Service, which is focused on introducing urban residents to the beauty of the outdoors.   The canoe rides, in partnership with the Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA), launched from Shawnee Park on Friday, October 3, and Saturday, October 4 from Riverview Park. Despite the rainy and cold weather, more than 350 participants took part in the activity.

What I enjoyed most about this event was the family-fun atmosphere.   It was interesting to watch many of the participants quietly (often a little reluctantly) meander down to the canoe in the beginning, yet confidently exiting the boat laughing and reminiscing about their journey up/down river at the conclusion.   Sometimes it was the child/teen holding the hand of the parent/grandparent who was obviously the one nervous, and at other times it was vice versa. While I personally was unable to overcome my fear of water and participate, I was impressed by the number of people who were. Some even acknowledging they now could mark this off their “bucket list”.

Thanks to the welcoming and energetic staff of Jefferson Memorial Forest and Wilderness Canoe Adventures. They helped to make the event GREAT! See some of my pictures below…



   canoe3 canoe4 canoe5 canoe6 canoe7 canoe8 canoe9

Louisville’s Trees… Why Should You Care?

By Jacob Murphy
Communications Coordinator

“You can always tell a tree person just by the way they walk down the street,” said Dr. William Fountain, Extension Arboriculture Professor at the University of Kentucky, “Most folks are looking down when they walk. They look at their phone, the sidewalk, their feet, etcetera. But a tree person always has their head tilted up towards the tree tops.” 

Dr. William Fountain is the Extension Arboriculture Professor at the University of Kentucky

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve never really thought in depth about trees.  Sure, I’ve climbed trees, read a book under a tree, raked leaves from a tree, collected firewood from a tree, etc., but until recently I hadn’t taken the time to understand the effects of trees and the impact they have on our lives.  Trees are like people;  they live, they grow, they die… and sometimes, just like people, looks can be deceiving.  I got the opportunity to tag along with Dr. Fountain and the city’s Forestry team during an inspection of trees managed by Metro Parks and it opened my eyes, to say the least.  

 “It looks healthy,” I said naively, “There are no dead limbs and there are even buds starting to appear.”

“Just because it looks healthy, doesn’t mean it is,” said Kevin Bold from the Division of Forestry, “Trees really are like people. They can be ill with a disease and no one would know until they were examined and diagnosed.”

The tree we were looking at had been diagnosed with a disease called Ganoderma. Ganoderma, which is often referred to as “Ganoderma butt rot,” is a tree disease that kills a tree from the inside out.  Once a tree is infected with Ganoderma the fungus begins to digest the wood, making it soft and sponge like.  Over time, the wood – so important for providing the strength necessary to hold the canopy upright – becomes  increasingly likely to fall during any sort of mild to severe weather, meaning high risk for injury to folks or homes that are nearby, in the event the tree would fall.

A parkway tree taken down due to Ganoderma. You can see the lines where the fungus had begun to digest the wood.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Ganoderma.  It is a disease that we see after trees have been subjected to environmental stress, and we have had plenty of that in recent years, said Fountain. We have had a number of droughts and these are mature trees in confined growing conditions.  Unlike trees growing in a natural environment our urban trees are forced to grow in areas where their roots are confined.  The airborne spores that cause the disease are everywhere and it spreads by infecting any wounds trees may have.

Displayed above is a sample of wood taken from a tree infected with Ganoderma. The wood becomes very weak and spongy.

Fredrick Law Olmsted, often considered the father of American landscape architecture, designed our parks and parkways. The pin oak was the species most commonly used in the Olmsted design and it seemed an obvious choice at the time.  The tree is easy to transplant and grows fast.  It gave a nice canopy cover for carriages and later, automobiles, as they moved through our city.  While lining the parkways with similar tree species of similar age creates an aesthetically pleasing visual, we have learned a lot about tree biology since Olmsted’s day and we now know that it is unwise to landscape with just a single species or with trees of all the same age because, typically, plant diseases spread only between closely related species. 

As with all other living organisms, trees eventually succumb to old age.  This happens a little more quickly when drought and the urban environment cause the trees to become stressed.  As you see trees disappear from our urban landscape, you will notice that they are being replaced with a diversity of different species.  This makes for a healthier urban forest and more interesting city.  This diversity of species will support an even greater number of wildlife species than we currently have.

“We have found 15 pin oaks in the past year that have been infected by Ganoderma,” said Landscape Manager, Dr. Mesude Duyar Ozyurekoglu, “Unfortunately, if a tree doesn’t have 30% or more of dense healthy wood, it has to come down.”

Displayed above is a tool used to measure tree density. A tiny (non-damaging) hole is drilled into the trunk of the tree, and the tool can sense how dense the wood is and indicate the density onto slips of pressure sensitive paper.

“Are we replacing the trees we take down?” I asked.

Mesude replied, “Yes, but not immediately.  The soil takes time to replenish nutrients after tree removal. And while we can take trees down year round, it’s best to plant trees during the dormant season – in the fall after leaf drop or early spring before budbreak.”

Mesude and her forestry team are responsible for over 15,000 trees in the parks and along the parkways in the city.   Metro Parks spends about $600,000 on the maintenance of these trees in an attempt to keep up with the damaging effects of storms, invasive pests, disease, neglect and age.

James Bruggers, environmental writer for the Courier-Journal, wrote an article in October of 2011 about the poor health of Louisville’s trees and the lack of effort there seems to be to protect and preserve the city’s urban canopy.  Bruggers mentions that Margaret Carreiro, a University of Louisville biology professor who has been studying Louisville’s trees with her students for 10 years,  estimates there are still as many as 3 million trees in the city’s residential areas alone. So, if $600,000 is barely enough for every 15,000 trees the city has, what would it take to provide sufficient care for Louisville’s entire urban canopy?

On November 11, 2011, Mayor Fischer announced the creation of the Louisville Metro Tree Advisory Commission with the goal to plant more trees and take better care of existing ones.  This is tremendous for tree health in Louisville, but the tree commission will need support from citizens to be effective.  Louisvillians have to make our city’s tree canopy a priority, or our future won’t have one. 

The Tree Commission will help in:

  • Advising city leaders on issues affecting Louisville’s urban forest;
  • Providing input in the selection and placement of trees on all city-owned property and public developments;
  • Educating the community and departments and agencies of Louisville Metro regarding the value of trees and proper ways to plant, maintain, and remove trees;
  • Serving as an advocate for the ongoing renewal of Louisville’s urban forest;
  • Creating a public tree fund with private donations;
  • Monitoring and gathering data and publishing reports about the status of Louisville’s tree canopy.

With no offense intended for our canine friends, it is often said that a city without trees isn’t fit for a dog.  Trees add scale to our urban infrastructure.  They provide shade on our hot summer days and cool and purify the air that we depend on for life.  We only seem to notice these giants as they begin to decline and leave our city.  The trees that we are losing were a gift to us from previous generations.   The best way for us to thank our great grandparents is to provide our grandchildren and their children with a healthy and beautiful urban forest… and the knowledge that these gentle giants hold must be cared for.  Trees are like people, our companions, and they deserve our appreciation. Have you thanked a tree today?

(It would not have been possible to write this article without the help and support of some kind and talented people, to only some of whom it is possible to give particular mention here. A special thanks goes to Dr. Fountain for his wisdom and guidance. Also, Mesude Duyar Ozyurekoglu for allowing me the opportunity to shadow her Forestry team. I would also like to thank Kevin Bold, Mike Blankenship and the entire Metro Parks Forestry Division for their never-ending hard work.)