A piece of land on the far end of Eastern Kentucky University’s Richmond campus may become a new home for native plants and animals. It’s becoming an outdoor classroom for EKU students….It’s a beaten down grassy path which winds behind EKU’s law enforcement complex and onto the Taylor Fork Ecological Project site. Just inside the large gate, the landscape changes. The land is clear with room for a picnic table. A sign outlines an interpretive trail, and there’s a boot scrubber. David Brown is a Biology Sciences professor at Eastern. “A lot of natural areas have something that so that when you enter it, you scrape your feet and if you’re carrying seeds or burrs or whatever, you leave them behind,” said Brown.
The Eastern Ecological Project was once pastureland….for ten years, EKU leased it out to neighboring farmers. David Brown says an undergrad in biology had the idea of restoring the land back to a natural area and converting it into an outdoor classroom. Brown says the idea was taken to school officials who said, ‘yes.’. Now, about a year a half later, the area features ten wetlands and two buffalo wallows…those are muddy, circular areas that hold some water.
“A couple of weeks of building the wetlands..there were already a lot of aquatic insects, like diving beatles that were in the wetlands. Already frogs laying eggs in the wetlands. There were already birds hanging around using the wetlands, so, there were kind of an instant high quality habitat for a lot of wildlife,” added Brown.
In addition to bringing native species back to the Madison County site, the Taylor Fork area makes for a nice ‘teaching tool.’ Professor Jennifer Koslow hopes to bring some of her ecology students there for a class
“When you have 20 different students doing a project in a single season..maybe their projects aren’t inherently connected..but we could start looking at larger patterns..and building on that just because we’re using the same site,” said Koslow.
While attending high school in Frankfort, EKU senior Loren Taylor helped with the raptor program at the nearby Salato Wildlife Center. Now she’s identifying bird calls at the Taylor Fork area..
“What I’ve learned is actually coming out and like listening and actually spotting the bird and seeing what bird is calling.. helps more than just listening to audio in your house or something like that cause they’re all gonna vary a little bit,” added Taylor.
Upon graduation, Taylor would like to find a job in ornithology in Central or South America. Taylor says there’s a lot of interest in such preservation work among her peers, but such study is difficult without large preserves like the one at EKU..
“I mean you can’t just have spotty you know one spot over here that has a good habitat and miles away has a good habitat…it has to have connectivity..in between and you’re not gonna get that without educating and informing people around you,” explained Taylor.
Students are already at work restoring the site. For example, Jessie Godbold of Oneida Kentucky is bringing a native plant known as Running Buffalo Clover back to Taylor Ford. It’s found nearby, at the Blue Grass Army Depot, which he says is ripe with the rare clover.
“Myself and another undergraduate and graduate student did a lot of monitoring out at the blue grass army depot.. which as far as we know is the largest population in the state..and one of the largest populations of it in the world,” said Godbold.
Some of that Running Buffalo Clover along with hundreds of trees have already been transplanted to Taylor Ford, and is marked with small colored flags. Biology professor David Brown says such restoration projects will be ongoing.
“There’s much more that needs to be done..there’s still a ton of honey suckle out here..and other invasive species..the road coming out still needs to be improved…in terms of like public access..it’s still not ideal,” said Brown.
Brown says it also offers the flexibility to practice different nature management techniques. He adds the Taylor Fork area will never be a Lilly Cornett Woods. The property, which is also managed by Eastern Kentucky University, preserves an old growth forest. But, he says Taylor Ford will still offer sanctuary to native wildlife and plants.