This is the season when conservationists and even some strangers to natural things find themselves drawn outdoors to plant for the summer ahead and for summers they’ll never see. Trees, more than most other vegetation, require growers to take a long-term perspective.
Last Saturday, hundreds of volunteers pitched in at Cove Spring Park, a little bit of wilderness on the northern edge of the city, to set 2,000 saplings in the fourth annual ReForest Frankfort event. Cove Spring is hardly bereft of foliage but Manager Andrew Cammack figured it was time to get serious about developing parts of the 100-acre parkland that most visitors don’t see. “Development,” to a naturalist, means adding rather than subtracting trees. The new plantings, in time, will shade the trail that hikers follow to the streams, springs and waterfalls gracing the tranquil glens from which Frankfort drew its first public water supply.
Kentucky State University followed up Thursday with the planting of 50 trees on campus, sponsored by the Arbor Day Foundation and Toyota. As a Land Grant institution, KSU is officially engaged in natural stewardship.
Also Thursday, members of the Frankfort Audubon Society and other nature lovers gathered at Juniper Hill Park, where the setting is pleasant if less sylvan than Cove Spring. While Juniper Hill is best known for its golf course, pool, playgrounds and picnicking spots, a two-acre patch of the rolling landscape is beginning to embody some of the attributes of its forested cousin, thanks in large part to the late Jim Durell, founding member and former president of the local Audubon. The purpose of the ceremony was to dedicate the Frankfort Audubon Arboretum in his memory.
Durell, who retired in 1985 as assistant director of the Division of Game in the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, never retired from his passionate advocacy for the natural environment. In 1980, he envisioned the section of Juniper Hill alongside Louisville Road and Leawood Drive as an arboretum featuring native Kentucky trees and some exotic species. His idea was to create a space where tree lovers could simply meditate or undertake serious as well as recreational study of plant life. Some, he anticipated, might even want to collect graft wood to propagate favorite varieties in other places.
Scott Hankla, current president of the Audubon chapter, stood at a podium in the shade cast over his audience by one of the first trees the arboretum’s founder set out three decades ago. He observed that the thornless honeylocust, towering dozens of feet above the speaker’s head, is like its planter – tough but not too thorny. Nearby are hybrids of the American chestnut, a tree decimated by a blight imported to this country in the early 20th century. Durell knew he wouldn’t witness the revival of the original but never gave up hope. In his final years, he managed to visit the arboretum even as his eyesight and stamina began to fail.
He’d be pleased that so many of today’s young people, concerned for the planet’s future, are working to replenish the natural world and reverse the damage that’s been done. His beloved trees will be part of their inheritance.