Honor a Central Kentucky legacy. Take a walk in a cathedral of trees.

The 300-acre Dupree Nature Preserve along the Kentucky River palisades in Central Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com
The 300-acre Dupree Nature Preserve along the Kentucky River palisades in Central Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen | teblen@herald-leader.com Herald-Leader

One year ago, Tom Dupree, Sr. passed away. Ann Todd Dupree lost her husband, his children lost their father, and the larger Lexington community lost a civic leader and important philanthropist. The Nature Conservancy, one of the many organizations to whom Tom donated his time and resources, lost a long-time friend and significant supporter.

Tom was a deeply religious man, and he recognized that for every thing there is a season. He loved life, but he did not fear death. I believe he left us at peace for what lay ahead and grateful for the lasting good he had done with his time with his family, friends and community.

A big part of that lasting good is The Nature Conservancy’s Dupree Nature Preserve, a 300-acre tract of beautiful woods and grasslands in Garrard County in the heart of the Kentucky River Palisades. And this is a good that all can enjoy, as the Dupree Nature Preserve has been open to the public since its dedication in 2013. Explaining his gift that made the preserve a reality, Tom said he wanted to leave a wild place, open to all, where young and old alike could connect with nature. To Tom, churches, forests, cathedrals, mountains, pews, and hiking trails were all holy, divine places.

Last Saturday, on a sunny, pleasantly warm morning, with just a gentle breeze rustling still new spring leaves, Dupree Nature Preserve certainly felt blessed to me. There, a small group of Nature Conservancy staff and supporters gathered to celebrate Earth Day and to honor and appreciate Tom’s legacy. We were probably about a week late for peak wildflowers, but the forest floor was still dotted with spring beauties, larkspur, rue anemone, ragwort and stonecrop. As we walked through the woods in the shade of towering oaks and hickories, I thought of Tom and how much the long line of hikers snaking along the narrow path would have pleased him. True philanthropists have a vision for what they want the world to be and the impact their giving will have. For Tom, that line of hikers must have been a good snapshot of that vision.

In my mind, Earth Day should be celebrated every day. Both individually and as a society, we could all benefit from spending more time outside, listening to birdsong, marveling at wildflowers, hiking under the trees. And we would all benefit if we made decisions—as individuals, communities, and as a nation—with an aim of enriching rather than depleting our natural, social, and spiritual capital. I believe that is how Tom made decisions, and we are enriched by his legacy.

But don’t take my word for it. Head out for a hike at Dupree Nature Preserve. Check out our new preserve signage, including a tribute to Tom. Spot a goldfinch or a northern flicker or even a peregrine falcon hunting from the cliffs above the Kentucky River. Look for pawpaw trees and witch hazel growing under the oaks. Watch the wildflowers dot the fields with color as we head into summer. Take the time to breathe and see if you don’t feel renewed when you get back to your car after your hike. If you do, come back or find another place to explore. And thank Tom Dupree for these cathedrals in the trees.

For more information on the Dupree Nature Preserve, nearby preserves in the Kentucky River Palisades, or other Conservancy preserves open to the public, please go to nature.org/Kentucky.

David Phemister is Kentucky State Director of The Nature Conservancy