Op-Ed

Ky. Voices: We need to unite to protect the Palisades

Autumn leaves overlooked Elk Lick Falls earlier this month at the 287-acre Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in Lexington.
Autumn leaves overlooked Elk Lick Falls earlier this month at the 287-acre Floracliff Nature Sanctuary in Lexington. Lexington Herald-Leader

At the celebration of Mary Wharton's legacy at Floracliff, I was struck by the current philosophical divergence between traditional supporters of nature preserves along the Kentucky River Palisades and The Nature Conservancy.

Mary — and her advocate at the celebration, Bill Bryant — were both founding members of the Conservancy's Kentucky chapter in the 1970s.

Yet there was no current representative of the Conservancy at this event, and as the day unfolded it became clear that Mary's vision for her preserve at Floracliff has almost never been followed elsewhere in the Palisades region.

She was convinced that financial endowment is essential to ensure satisfactory stewardship of her site and that a regular manager should be hired. Knowing that extensive endowment is impossible in the short term, The Nature Conservancy has bought several thousand acres along the Palisades, then resold most of them to interested individuals or organizations, with easements that seek to prevent excessive disturbance.

But there is still no general manager or coordinator for the Palisades.

There is a third way that has not been sufficiently developed — to foster collaboration among all types of conservationists in the region and with public or private interests. Protection of land from development is becoming less important than how it is managed. There are two central, connected problems: how to fund control of invasive alien species (from the creeping euonymus to emerald ash borer), and how to browse, burn or mow remnants of more open woodland and grassland.

As a community, we need to define these problems more clearly for research and education, meet to share our experiences and forge a united effort. I have written a pamphlet about these issues, "Kentucky River Palisades: Hope or Illusion?" at my Web site (Bluegrasswoodland.com; click on Bluegrass and Knobs).

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