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Louisville Showcases Wildlife Conservation in the City

Submitted by Terri Estes Brunjes, Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Biologist, Liaison to USDA-NRCS

Mention Jefferson County, Kentucky and the metropolitan city of Louisville is the first thing people visualize.  Nature is the furthest thought from their minds.   Many people aren’t aware of the largescale project concept of “City of Parks”.  City of Parks is a municipal project designed to create a continuous Floyds Forkpaved pedestrian and biking trail around the city of Louisville while also adding a large amount of park land for recreation. Current project plans include: converting approximately 4,000 acres of the Floyds Fork floodplain in eastern Jefferson County into park space, expanding the Jefferson Memorial Forest, and adding riverfront land and wharfs along Louisville’s Riverwalk and Levee Trails. There are also plans to connect the 100-mile Louisville trail to a planned seven mile trail connecting the Southern Indiana cities of New Albany, Clarksville and Jeffersonville.  

Four non-profit organizations in Jefferson County are making a significant impact to this project by focusing on and improving wildlife habitat in the community park areas they represent.  These organizations are: 21st Century Parks, Inc. (representing a mix of Metro Louisville’s Eastern Jefferson County Parks along with Floyds Fork Corridor properties under the control of 21st Century Parks Inc. and The Future Fund Inc.);  Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy (representing the heart of the City’s Olmsted designed parks);  Blackacre Conservancy Inc. (representing part of Kentucky’s first purchased Nature Preserve); and Wilderness Louisville, Inc. (representing Jefferson Memorial Forest and Natural Areas managed by the City of Louisville). 

These groups worked with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s District Conservationist, Kurt Mason and Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ wildlife biologists Jason Nally and Terri Estes Brunjes to focus on protecting and enhancing wildlife species in one of the most populated areas of the state.  Through the Environmental Quality Incentive Programs Wildlife Initiative (EQIP Wildlife) and the former Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (WHIP), these nonprofit organizations have been able to improve 1,166 acres of wildlife habitat.  Grass and wildflower species planted for conservation cover include: Little bluestem, Sideoats Grama, Purpletop Tridens, Prairie Dropseed, Blackeyed susan, Illinois Bundleflower, Partridge Pea, Purple Coneflower, Grey-headed coneflower, BergamoPawpaw Treet, Ohio Spiderwort, Rigid Goldenrod, New England Aster, Spiked Blazing Star and Smooth Aster.  Tree species planted for bottomland hardwood forest include: American Plum, Downy Serviceberry, Viburnum, Bur Oak, Shumard Oak, Swamp White Oak, Shagbark Hickory, Shellbark Hickory, Red Osier Dogwood, Hazelnut, Spicebush, Witchhazel, Sumac, Carolina Buckthorn, Persimmon, Red Mulberry, PawPaw, Chokecherry, Walnut and Kentucky Coffeetree.  In addition to the plantings, the groups also designed and built several ephemeral pools designed for aquatic habitat and small amphibians. 

All four parks allow public access so people in the community and visitors from across the state and nation can watch the progress as practices are implemented.  These parks rely on volunteers, staff and individual contractors to implement projects such as invasive species control, native grass and wildflower plantings, wetland creation, prescribed fire, forest stand improvement, and bottomland hardwood tree plantings.  Most of the project areas have signs that identify the treatment that is taking place.

Many species benefit from these wildlife practices and can thrive in park settings.  Parks are used by both migratory birds as stopovers between breeding and wintering grounds and resident birds that nest in Kentucky.   Every spring, birders flock to parks to view the colorful warblers as they migrate Warbler birdthrough, such as the Blackburnian warbler shown.  Eastern box turtles can also be seen in deciduous forests adjacent to meadows and streams or ponds.  Large continuous blocks of protected habitat like these parks are the key to making differences for wildlife, especially for those species experiencing population declines. 

In addition to the habitat work, these large blocks of open spaces offer aesthetic places for recreation such as birding, hiking, picnicking, fishing, biking, and canoeing within the most densely populated area in the state.  Additional opportunities such as summer camps, guided hikes, archery instruction, and even camping are also available.  Besides that, within some of these areas you can also see row crops being planted and harvested, hay being managed and pastures transitioning to better accommodate species that are often overlooked, such as butterflies, bees, bats, hawks, rabbits, foxes and owls.   This combined effort will have far reaching implications in helping to connect people to the land and foster a land ethic that will nurture future generations of conservationists.  So the next time you are near Louisville, stop by and visit one of these parks.  You might just see something interesting!