Though we associate prairies with the large, flat midsection of our country, Kentucky originally contained areas of true prairie – ecosystems with moderate rainfall and temperate climate, with vegetation that is predominantly grasses, herbs and shrubs rather than trees. In the Pennyrile district, where prairies predominated, there may be some original prairie land remaining. However, in most of the other areas development, agriculture and invasive non-native plants have destroyed most of the native prairie.
In parts of the state, most notably the Land Between the Lakes, there has been a significant effort with some success to restore the grasslands and the wildlife to its original state. Most recently, the Parklands at Floyd’s Fork announced being awarded a 3 million dollar grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to “Promote long-term sustainability at the 4,000 acre park in eastern Jefferson County”. One element of that award was the “creation of 80 acres of native meadows and prairie within the Parklands system”.
The Parklands of Floyds Fork is, in itself, a mammoth restoration project that has grown out of the passion of a number of local people. In the early 90’s, Teena Halbig and a group of residents formed the Floyd’s Fork Environmental Association, acting and advocating for restoring a fragile watershed. This group gained recognition when community leaders like Dr. Steve Henry founded the Future Fund, a land trust that began acquiring land along Floyds Fork for preservation. An elected official, Judge Executive David Armstrong, valued the inclusion of parks in an urban setting and negotiated the purchase three large plots along the fork to be included in Louisville’s public park system. Most recently, David Jones Sr., a local entrepreneur and philanthropist, along with his son Dan, are the driving forces behind the creation of the multi-million dollar non-profit 21st Century Parks with a primary purpose of restoring the Floyd’s Fork watershed.
For this piece, I met with Margaret Shea, owner of Dropseed Nursery, our local source for native plants and for prairie plants in particular. She educated me on the types of plants indigenous to our original prairies – Aster Laevis (Aster), Silphium Laciniatum (Compass Plant) Baptisia Australis (False Indigo), Solidago (Goldenrod), Amsonia Abernaemontana (Eastern Bluestar), Chrysopsis Mariana (Maryland Goldenaster), and Coreopsis Ripteris (Tall Coreopsis). Using the information she provided, I included images suggesting natural fire that is essential to the health of a prairie and that the roots of the compass plant can extend 15 feet into the earth, allowing them to survive fire and become the network of roots to support the new growth. She gave me some seeds and I am now in the process of reintroducing native plants to our property.