Limited spots remain for workshop

By KEENAN BISHOP Extension Agent for Agriculture Published:

The Westridge Elementary School Outdoor Classroom is incorporating a low dry stone retaining wall in an elaborate design. This will be for a raised bed along one end of the outdoor classroom.

The Extension Office is currently taking sign ups for a limited number of spots for a Hands-On Landscaping with Dry Stone Workshop on April 22. Join a few other hardy folks and learn how to properly prepare a foundation, lay the faces and pack the core. Participants will gain the knowledge to build their own dry stone retaining walls for raised beds or garden pathways.

This class will involve some moderate physical activity, as each person will have a section of wall to complete. If you are interested in learning the principles of dry stone construction and want to help the community by working on the Westridge Outdoor Classroom, call the Extension Office at 695-9035 and sign up now for this first come-first serve opportunity!

The rock fences we see in central Kentucky are as commonplace as the trees and cows that grow up around them. Many of us are so used to seeing them that we dont really give much thought to them anymore.

Did you know that the fences you do see are only about 10 percent of what actually used to be here? Did you know that this cultural icon is fairly unique in North America? There are only a few other locales with a similar concentration of rock fences and other stone features.

The rock, or dry stone, fences were a natural for this area. They solved several problems:

1. Rocks were a byproduct of clearing the fields for agriculture. 2. Trees to make fence rails were in short supply in the early 180s due to clearing for fields, new construction of houses, barns and buildings and for winter heating.

3. Immigrants with a history of dry stone masonry were available for employment. 4. Fence law required certain fence types in order to have a legal fence and stone was one of them.

So what exactly is dry stone masonry?

Basically it is using only naturally occurring stone as a resource and utilizing friction and gravity to create a wall, fence or even a building. It has been around for thousands of years and any place in the world where rocks can be found. When properly constructed by a trained and knowledgeable craftsman, the structures can last for hundreds if not thousands of years with very minimal maintenance. The dry stone mason needs to understand gravity and how to make it work to his advantage so the fence will last.

Many people call these fences slave fences but they are only half way correct. Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Germany and Italy, among others, came to America in search of a better life in the 1800s. They came with very little material possessions and sometimes didnt even speak English.

They did bring a strong work ethic and knowledge of how to build with stone. Farmers and landowners would employ them to build fences for them. Slave owners would provide slaves to clear the site, haul the stone and assist the mason. Consequently, these African Americans learned the trade and once they were freed, many used this knowledge to start businesses of their own building dry stone fences in Kentucky.

Dry stone masonry is an ecologically sound form of construction since the raw material, stone, is reusable and readily available. It requires no mortar and very little tools or equipment. There is even very little site preparation or disturbance since it requires no footings. The stones can be re-used over and over. This is a heritage that we need to preserve for its practical beauty as well as its history.

To find out more, visit the Dry Stone Conservancy at www.drystone.org or http://www.dswa.org.uk/.

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