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

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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Happy Derby Week! More on Louisville Parks’ connection to horses

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The iconic statue of Gen. John B. Castleman, located near the entrance to Cherokee Park in the Cherokee Triangle Neighborhood. 

By Walter Munday
Outreach Manager
E-mail Walter

Kentucky loves its horses.

It’s as ingrained to our culture as the potato is to the state of Idaho.

As Louisville welcomes guests from all over the world to the running of the 143 Kentucky Derby, Louisville Metro Parks & Recreation would like to shine a little light on our history with horses.

But first, why is Kentucky so obsessed with horses?  Recorded history indicates as the American settlers migrated into the state, it became noticeable that horses, which grazed in the “bluegrass” region, were more hardy than those from other regions.  According to the Kentucky Geological Survey website, more than half of Kentucky’s surface is limestone.

While most limestone is formed in warm, calm, shallow, marine environments, Kentucky’s limestone is flat; sedimentary rock that is primarily made of the mineral calcite, or calcium carbonate. When horses graze on pastures grown on limestone, they consume calcium carbonate which helps harden their bones, just as milk does for humans.

Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association records indicate that Kentucky-bred horses have accounted for 76 percent of Kentucky Derby winners, 75 percent of Breeders’ Cup winners, and eight of the 11 winners of the Triple Crown.  But thoroughbreds aren’t the only type of horses grazing in Kentucky’s pastures.

The Kentucky Department of Travel website indicates that there are approximately 320,000 horses in Kentucky. Over half of those are for recreational activities and show competitions. Saddlebreds are popular in Kentucky too.

But the average person more than likely has not clue about the difference.   The Thoroughbred horse was developed in the late 17th and early 18th century by breeding English saddle horses to Arabian, Turkoman and Barb stallions. All modern thoroughbreds can liberally be traced back to three foundation Arab, Barb and Turk stallions and were bred as racing horses.

The American Saddlebred horse is the more modern of the two breeds and is unique in having been bred in the United States and used by officers during the Civil War. This breed is a descendant of the Thoroughbred that was selectively bred with other American saddle horses sometime after the American Revolution.

The Saddlebred horse is a pleasure horse known for its extremely high “ambling” gait and high head carriage.  The term ambling refers to, “to walk or move at a slow, relaxed pace.”

In Louisville, the 300-acre Fox Hill Estate, originally owned by Joseph Kinney and Basil Prather, was a Saddlebred Horse farm.  Prather, who rose to the rank of Adjutant General at Ft. Nelson, was appointed as one of five trustees for the City of Louisville in 1789.

Prather was also one of Kentucky’s first horse breeders having as many as 15 horses in his inventory.  Another prominent owner of the Fox Hill Estate was then Colonel John B. Castleman.

Col. John. B. Castleman, an original Louisville Parks Commissioner, renamed Fox Hill to Castleford, and he too became interested in saddlehorse breeding.  He later became the founder of the American Saddle Horse Association, and served as their first president.    During the Spanish-American War, Col. Castleman was commissioned a colonel in the U.S. Army, and later a Brigadier General following the war.  General Castleman and his prize saddlebred horse – Carolina – are memorized by a bronze monument at Castleman Square in the Cherokee Triangle neighborhood.

In 1937, Ben and Bess Collings purchased Castleton, and renamed it Colonial Farms.

In a legal brief titled Collings’ Estate vs. United States filed September 3, 1953, the document indicates that from 1938 until his death, Ben H. Collings operated a farm and conducted the business of breeding, training and selling saddle horses.

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Bess Collings 

He maintained a stallion, Colonial Chief, and both mares and geldings.   In 1947, one of Collings’ mares – Colonial Princess – sold for $20,000 (approximately $250,000 today).

Following the death of both Ben (1951) and Bess (1965), the remaining parcels of Colonial Farms were sold to Bellarmine College who then sold it to the City of Louisville the following year (1966).

Colonial Farms is now Joe Creason Park off Trevilian Way; just seven miles from where the big race happens on Saturday.

Now you know!


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

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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).

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.