A brief history of ‘Forest Fest,” Louisville’s celebration of bluegrass and Jefferson Memorial Forest

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This year’s Forest Fest advertisement

By Autumn Costelle
Americorps VISTA Worker, Jefferson Memorial Forest
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Jefferson Memorial Forest used to be known as “Jefferson County’s Best Kept Secret,” but not anymore. With the help of Forest Fest, an annual bluegrass festival that promotes local businesses and artists, the Forest is gaining attention as the most treasured natural playground in Louisville’s backyard.

Forest Fest began 13 years ago, when Tonya Swan, the program manager at the time, decided to try something new to bring Jefferson Memorial Forest into the public eye. The beautiful 6,600 acres of sloping, tree-covered hills right in the middle of Fairdale needed an event to draw in visitors who might not normally come to the forest.

“I wanted it to be something that introduced the rest of Louisville to this great Forest and this very traditional community that held onto its small-town feel right in the middle of the largest city in Kentucky” Swan said, explaining her motivation for starting the event.

Despite Kentucky’s rich Bluegrass roots, Swan felt that Louisville had failed to showcase the genre and the talented artists from the area.

It would take a lot of effort, but she believed Forest Fest would be an excellent opportunity to bring Bluegrass fans out to the forest and put both the music and the location on the map. The first Forest Fest was in 2005, and there were just two bands, 100 people, an oversized stage, and one speaker.

In recent years, however, Bluegrass has made a comeback in Louisville due to regular jams, the work of Bluegrass Anonymous, and local bands becoming more popular in the area.

By 2008, Forest Fest’s headliners were Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, and the event attracted over 5,000 attendees.

The event is growing every year with six musical acts and more local food and drink vendors and family activities. The event could not happen without all of the amazing volunteers, forest and parks staff, and sponsors such as Metro Council, LG&E, and WFPK.

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Berk Bryant, the “Country Gentleman’ from WFPK Radio, has been a familiar site throughout the history of Forest Fest. 

Forest Fest includes both traditional and progressive/Americana bluegrass. The Forest has recently added music and band workshops as well as an expanded camping area for the festival.

Rebecca Minnick, current Program Manager at the Forest, took over the festival in 2013. She starts planning the next year’s festival when summer camps end and works tirelessly to gather all the required resources needed to hold such a huge event in the middle of a forest.

An outdoor event always comes with hiccups and difficulties. But even on a rainy day like they had for Forest Fest 2016, people were dancing in the rain and having a blast.

One of Minnick’s favorite parts about Forest Fest is the kid’s nature play activities. The kids can make mud pies and fairy villages, get up close with native wildlife, and dance around the trees. Minnick wants kids to say to their parents “I had so much fun playing in the forest, can we go back there?”

The goal of Forest Fest is to promote Jefferson Memorial Forest and raise awareness of all the infinite opportunities for free, fun learning right in your backyard.

Jefferson Memorial Forest is a place for Louisvillians to hike and picnic under the leafy canopy and a chorus of songbirds.

A place to go fishing with your children. A place to discover all the wildflowers of spring. A place to camp under more stars than you can count. A place for your children to look back on and remember those magical days of summer camp where they got to catch bugs, go canoeing, and build forts in the woods.

And lastly, a place to enjoy a beautiful spring day surrounded by the best Bluegrass and Americana music in Louisville!

This year’s Forest Fest is happening May 20th from 10:30am to 7:00pm. Admission is free. Parking is $10 per vehicle.

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Celebrating trees: the legend of the Bald Cypress tree

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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

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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).

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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
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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.

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(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.

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(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…

 

 

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