As an Interpretive Ranger here at The Parklands of Floyds Fork, the Sycamore Trail has become my most well used and loved trail. Our education staff has led hundreds if not thousands of kids down this trail on adventures during birthday parties, field trips, and summer camps. We’ve led business men and women, teachers, principals, and parents along its winding path, and given dozens of families directions from our Visitor’s Center: Follow the outer sidewalk leading to the Louisville Loop, cross the park road and look to your right for the knee high sign pointing toward the Sycamore Trail. The path leads into the riparian area, the streamside buffer protecting the fork from erosion and runoff.
Personally, I can’t wait to walk this trail with my new baby. Right now she is snug, sleeping in my baby wrap, but soon she will be walking and I will need to warn her of the Stinging Nettle plants which line the path. If you’ve ever stumbled into a patch of this prickly plant, you know why it is to be avoided. But Nettles are also a valuable part of the ecosystem, the plants stinging hairs on their stems protect them from grazing animals and provide a protective habitat for many insects. The seeds also provide valuable food for many species of birds.
This short trail is a great place to see sycamore trees with their white peeling bark – this year’s seeds still clinging to the branches until they drop into the water and float downstream. They are specifically adapted to grow along waterways, with their great root systems anchoring the soil in place. Eventually even these giants will succumb to the relentless flow of water and the flood events that characterize Floyds Fork. New Sycamores will sprout up in the sediment left behind shifting the shoreline.
Exploring the gravel bar is one of my favorite activities, with over 40 species of native fishes, dozens of reptile species, a multitude of freshwater mussels, and Ordovician fossils dating 450 million years, the kids almost always find something new. I’ve often been enchanted by the excitement in the eyes of the children who invariable ask “are there alligators in the water?” I patiently explain that we are too far north for alligators, but we have our own enigmatic critters who make their homes in the creeks of Kentucky. There is a story here that transcends time and space. I see children eagerly scattering over the gravel bar finding fossilized treasures. Tempted to take home these treasures they are asked to leave them behind so future adventures can find them too.
The Sycamore Trail is a link to the past, present and future. So many have contributed to protecting and enhancing this place. I can’t help but wonder what it will look like when my daughter is old enough to walk the trail…how will the saplings have grown? By the time she is an adult these baby trees will have grown into a hardwood forest, creating habitat for wildlife, protecting the Floyds Fork watershed, and touching the lives of so many. I look forward to seeing what it will become.