Now that spring is here, people are getting outdoors and exploring nature. I recently had the opportunity to participate in a service outing at the E. Lucy Braun State Nature Preserve near Harlan.
During service outings, volunteers team up with state personnel to assist with projects such as trail maintenance, construction projects or research.
This particular service outing was coordinated in partnership with the Sierra Club in Kentucky and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission. The commission partners with many volunteer nonprofits for this kind of work.
Our task was to build a bridge over a creek in the preserve. E. Lucy Braun contains over 600 acres and protects several rare natural features. Many of our public lands, including those within the Kentucky State Nature Preserves system, protect the best of natural areas for present and future generations. They also enhance wildlife habitat and offer protection for our water quality by providing a buffer for headwater streams.
Because of the remoteness of the area, the project required heavy oak lumber to be carried by hand two miles down to the creek. It took nine volunteers the better part of the day to carry lumber, engineer a foundation, and construct the bridge.
We spent a beautiful early spring day in the company of new friends and outstanding landscapes. We left with a great sense of accomplishment and enjoyed exploring the nearby areas outside the preserve, which feature some of the best scenic vistas in Eastern Kentucky.
Some day our bridge will connect with a portion of the Pine Mountain Scenic Trail, encouraging more outdoor recreation (and hopefully more tourism-related jobs) in the area.
As Kentuckians move out of their winter hibernation and begin exploring the outdoors again, you may find a bridge such as ours and assume that your tax money takes care of building and maintaining this infrastructure.
But know that for the 63 state nature preserves in Kentucky, there are presently only two field staff to manage on-the-ground projects. The state funding for the Nature Preserves Commission has been reduced significantly over the years, resulting in a drop from 23 personnel to 14.
Funds that used to be obtained from the sale of state "Nature's Finest" license plates have been raided in part to help address shortfalls in the General Fund.
The public should continue to support the purchase of these plates, but should also be demanding more of their funds are restored for their intended purpose, and demand additional dedicated funding be found for the protection of Kentucky's natural areas.
It is clear that if we are serious about preserving the best of Kentucky for our enjoyment and for future generations, and are serious about looking for new economic opportunities around tourism and jobs in Eastern Kentucky, then new dedicated funding should be a priority to adequately support our state nature preserves system.
Until then, the people who maintain our natural heritage will have to depend on the kindness of volunteers.