LANCASTER — Thomas P. Dupree Sr. spent his career in high finance, but his heart has always been in nature.
While building a successful municipal bond brokerage in Lexington, Dupree spent more than three decades of his spare time as a volunteer, board member and chairman of The Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that works to preserve and protect America's special wild places.
Dupree said he fell in love with Kentucky's natural landscape as an Eagle Scout growing up in Harlan, where he spent as much time as he could in the woods. Thanks to his generosity, more Kentuckians will be able to do the same.
The conservancy on Oct. 5 will open its newest and most developed Central Kentucky property: The 300-acre Dupree Nature Preserve. Located on Polly's Bend with 3 miles of Kentucky River frontage, the preserve is a short drive off U.S. 27 south of Nicholasville in Garrard County.
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Like Lexington's city-owned Raven Run Nature Preserve, the Dupree preserve will have accessible public trails and environmental education facilities and programs for schools.
"I could only dream at one time that I would have enough money to do this," Dupree, 83, said as he and his wife, Ann, took a preview tour of the preserve last week. Despite battling Parkinson's disease for two decades, Dupree walked the trails with vigor.
While conservancy staff member Jim Aldrich showed the Duprees around, the preserve hosted an inaugural group of fourth-graders from Camp Dick Robinson Elementary School in Garrard County.
"Kids who come out here can get a deep feeling that this belongs to them," Dupree said. "This belongs to everybody, and I hope it gives them a feeling of wealth — natural wealth."
Land restoration efforts at the preserve so far have involved removing invasive Asian species such as honeysuckle and winter creeper and the planting of 12,000 native trees.
Facilities will eventually include a dock, a picnic pavilion and educational information about the natural landscape and history of the bend, where Daniel Boone and other early pioneers once hunted and lived. Bluegrass Greensource will help with educational programming.
In addition to Dupree and other private donors, including Warren Rosenthal, the conservancy received help on the project from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Kentucky River Authority, Toyota USA, Kentucky American Water, Sterling Ventures and foundations affiliated with Ashland Inc., LG&E and KU Energy and the Hinkle family.
Over the past 38 years, the conservancy has partnered with government and other private conservation organizations to protect 45,786 Kentucky acres. That includes nature preserves and 6,534 acres of privately owned land put under conservation easements that limit development.
The conservancy's biggest Kentucky acquisition ever was completed earlier this month: 4,241 acres near the Ohio River in Crittenden County as part of a project to improve water quality. After purchase, the land was transferred to the state, whose wildlife and forestry divisions will manage it.
The conservancy is working to preserve wetlands in the Obion Creek/Bayou du Chien watersheds of far Western Kentucky and portions of the Green River. In Eastern Kentucky, it works with energy companies to try to minimize or mitigate environmental damage from coal mining in sensitive areas.
In Central Kentucky, the conservancy's efforts have focused on the palisades region of the Kentucky River between Boonesborough and Frankfort, which increasingly are threatened by suburban sprawl. Through easements and nature preserves, the conservancy has protected 3,000 acres along the river.
The Dupree preserve represents a new direction for the conservancy, said Terry Cook, the state director.
Rather than just saving sensitive natural areas from development or damage, the organization wants to get more people outside to enjoy them. The conservancy also wants to improve environmental education to create future generations of advocates like Tom Dupree.
The conservancy has been doing more environmental education with adults, too, including helping corporations figure out how to reduce their impact on the planet and understand how a cleaner environment can reduce their operating costs.
"Then we started looking at how we could reduce our own footprint," Cook said.
That effort includes a new Nature Conservancy state headquarters office in a restored 19th-century house on Woodland Avenue. The project has included both historic preservation and incorporation of new energy-saving technology.
Cook said the building will be made available to partner organizations for meetings and events. Next year, the conservancy hopes to join Gallery Hop and showcase local artists and photographers whose work depicts Kentucky's natural landscape.
"We're at the point where we've got a foundation in place," Cook said. "Now we're looking what the future opportunities might be."