For more than a century, the 45-acre plot of land along Floyds Fork was farmed, most recently for corn and soybeans. But today, the tiny roots of nearly 31,000 tree saplings are taking hold in the field’s rich soil made soggy by seasonal rain.
With federal funding from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a crew from 21st Century Parks is seeking to restore a native woodland on the site by planting northern red oaks, pin oaks, pecans, persimmon, black cherry, black walnut and nine other native Kentucky species.
They are connecting the future forest to other woodlands in Turkey Run Park, the largest in a string of parks and protected open spaces in the developing Parklands of Floyds Fork.
“This is as clean as we have been in two weeks,” said Andy Oost, who was covered in mud along with Jason Grigsby and Corinne Witzel, the crew working the tractor and tree-planting machine in the field on a recent soggy morning.
“You are using the dirt on your sleeve to wipe off the mud on your face,” Witzel said, adding that she looks forward to bringing her children to the field in the future to watch the forest take shape.
The nonprofit 21st Century Parks is responsible for fundraising, land acquisition, construction, operation and maintenance of the new park system.
The Parklands project is developing a recreation corridor along 27 miles of the creek between Shelbyville and Bardstown roads. It is scheduled for completion in 2015.
The saplings planted in recent months look like sticks now, with leaves still hidden inside their winter buds. They rise just a foot or two from the ground and have been planted in rows eight feet apart.
Volunteers will plant the final 100 trees destined for the field on March 17. In all, 21st Century Parks will plant about 45,000 trees this year, including 15,000 in a bottomlands areas of Beckley Creek Park at the northern end of the recreation corridor, said parks director Scott Martin.
The goal of the Turkey Run project is to connect the largest existing block of forest within the Parklands with the Floyds Fork stream corridor.
Martin said the field where the crew was working had likely been farmed for 100 to 150 years. The Parklands master plan calls for maintaining about 300 acres of the property as farmland to showcase the area’s heritage, he said.
The land where the trees were planted was once owned by Squire Boone, Daniel Boone’s brother, and the original deed was signed by Thomas Jefferson when he was governor of Virginia, Martin said.
At some point, the Turkey Run creek appears to have been moved to the side of the field, which was a common practice for Kentucky settlers, Martin said. There are no immediate plans to restore the creek’s original course, he said.
Trees that like moist soil have been planted in the wetter areas and those that like drier soil have been planted in appropriate parts of the field, said Gary Rzepecki, 21st Century Parks natural areas manager.
He said the Kentucky Division of Forestry assisted on the tree species selection, with a goal of improving wildlife habitat, reducing soil erosion, providing shade and improving air quality.
“This is very fertile; it’s great soil for growing trees,” Rzepecki said, adding that much of it would flood during high water on Floyds Fork.
Kurt Mason, a conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the project is part of a $69,000 grant to 21st Century Parks. He said the tree plantings will also represent “a land use that is sustainable” and will be a gift to the next generation.
The newly planted trees may grow 15 to 25 feet within 20 years, depending on the species, he said.
“The burr oaks take forever, but in 100 years, you have the most majestic trees in Kentucky,” he said. “We’re committed to that 100-year vision for the land.”