Essay Archive

November 2020

The Natural Areas of Fayette County

We in Lexington are fortunate to have three designated natural areas under the care of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation: McConnell Springs, Raven Run and Hisle Farm Park.  On November 5 Wild Ones offers an opportunity for our members and Friends to hear from the newly appointed director for these natural areas, Jennifer Hubbard-Sanchez.

Spring wildflowers at Raven Run

According to an LFUCG brochure called Bring Back the Bluegrass, “Lexington’s natural areas exist to preserve the beauty of the Kentucky Bluegrass Region.”  Each natural area is unique. However all are open for public use, all three are noted as good spots for bird watching and all are managed to promote native plants.

You are all probably familiar with McConnell Springs, a smaller park of 26 acres located right in town.  I was sure I was lost on my first visit because the road into the park runs right through an industrial area.  The park has walking trails for foot traffic only; it is a unique experience to walk through the trees hearing (and sometimes smelling) the industrial processes going on out of sight.  McConnell Springs has a number of very interesting hydrological features and a 250 year old Burr Oak.  The park gets a 4.5 rating on Tripadvisor.com; visitors noted the nice visitor’s center, the trails and the charm of this park in the middle of industry.  The Friends of McConnell Springs is a 501c(3) organization that works with LFUCG to support the park as a historical site and natural area.  In 2019 Wild Ones provided a grant to support the planting of native shrubs in a detention basin in front of the McConnell Springs visitor’s center.

Kentucky River from the Raven Run overlook

Located in south eastern Fayette County along the Kentucky River, Raven Run is a much larger park at 734 acres. The park showcases the Kentucky River Palisades (including flora and fauna) and is known for its wonderful spring wildflower display. I’m sure you have enjoyed wildlife viewing and scenic overlooks along the 10 miles of walking trails.  It always feels very remote from the city even though it is within Fayette County.  I have found it especially enjoyable during the pandemic since this popular park is subject to capacity restrictions; however, currently (in October 2020) pre-registration is required for hiking.  Raven Run is also supported by a 501c(3) organization, the Friends of Raven Run. Volunteers work on invasive plant control and trail maintenance.  Raven Run has a nature center with a native plant garden in front.

Hisle Park in winter

Hisle Farm Park is the newest (and least known by the public) Fayette County natural area.  My first visit was this year for a Wild Ones event. It is on an old 280 acre farm with wide trails through rolling pasture land about 5 miles north east of the city.  Trails are shared use for hiking or horse riding, leashed pets are allowed.  The old farm pond is available for fishing.    The website greatruns.com notes Hisle Park as a good place for a hilly trail run in Kentucky horse country. Apparently, Hisle Farm Park does not have a Friends organization yet and it isn’t listed on TripAdvisor, so now is the perfect time to visit this park.

As part of the creation of the LFUCG 2018 Master Plan, the public expressed a need for more hiking opportunities, walking trails and more natural areas.  LFUCG Parks and Recreation Management’s goal is to naturalize more park space in Fayette County benefitting both people and wildlife.  So, join us for our November 5 Zoom meeting to explore the future of our Fayette County natural areas.

Laura Cole

October 10, 2020

Some Reflections about Pruning Trees

Urban trees live in a very different environment from trees in the forest. They are often surrounded by pavement, struggle with compacted soils and absorb polluted air, while forest trees grow in loose shaded soils rich in organic matter. But there is one thing urban trees tend to have going for them: plenty of light and space to spread their branches. Forest trees, by contrast, must compete for light losing their lower branches as they struggle to reach the life-giving sunshine.

White oak in Gainesway subdivision

From our perspective as urban dwellers we could say that forest trees prune themselves as they grow. City trees, on the other hand, require pruning so that they can accommodate the activities taking place around them. For most people pruning a tree means simply cutting off the branches that are in the way of mowers, pedestrians, cars, buildings, or any other object that we value in our human-made world. Few consider pruning to give a tree a healthy structure so that it can live a long and trouble-free life in the urban environment. Part of the reason is that pruning cuts made for the tree’s health require some understanding of its growth and are less intuitive than the cuts we make for human convenience.

Pruning cut beginning to heal

The question how a tree will live in the space where it is placed arises a year or so after planting when it has largely recovered from transplant stress. During the first year it needs all its leaves to photosynthesize and help it develop a strong root system, but after that it can shed up to 25% of its foliage during pruning without suffering harm.

Pruning cut almost healed

Young trees in open spaces often develop one or several strong branches starting low on the trunk. Or a central leader may split a few feet above ground into two equal upward striving trunks which will cause instability later. To correct either of these situations seems to require cutting off a large portion of the young tree, more than the 25% it could easily cope with. There is, however, a better approach. Removing those large branches (or the unwanted co-leader) should be spaced out over two or even three years. In the first year they can be cut back by one half or one third of their length. This encourages the tree to invest more of its energy into its trunk and other branches while the trimmed branch (or co-leader) becomes weaker and thinner by comparison. Eventually it can be cut off altogether.

Pruning cut prevented from healing due to stump

Good pruning cuts are always made at the base of the branch being pruned so that the wound can heal quickly. Branches usually form a “collar”, more or less obvious, where they grow away from the trunk or a larger branch, and the cut should be made just outside that collar. The wound that results diminishes in size as the bark encircles it and eventually grows over it. The pruning wound will not heal as long as a dying stump protrudes from it. (See illustrations)

A tree that gracefully occupies the place for which it was designated is an object of great beauty. It spreads its evenly spaced  branches without encumbering humans and lives in harmony with the built environment. Watching and gently steering its growth is a gratifying project that can help us reflect about the intersection between the social and the natural worlds on the basis of personal experience.

Beate Popkin