November’s surprise election results left many in the cold, and the dark days have stretched on, long and bizarre — to put it mildly. But now, with the warmer weather and longer days, we can all try to better our moods and strive to break free from some of the political madness. So keep the faith; spring seems to be here. And whether you like to garden, search for signs of prehistoric life or swing in the trees, there are many Kentucky gems that will help illuminate the days ahead. Here are just a few:
Spring is a time for growth. So why not use that idea as a jumping off point to do some good in our community? My 15-year-old daughter and I started volunteering for Louisville Grows last year, and have discovered that this nonprofit group is like a welcoming family. We first found out about it at a booth at the Mighty Kindness festival. Louisville Grows has several extremely-enthusiastic and knowledgeable AmeriCorp workers on staff, and their positivity is nothing short of contagious. Upon their urging, we took a training course and are now officially Citizen Foresters (we even have the training and T-shirts to prove it.) Every few weeks, we go out with volunteers and care for trees they have planted in various Louisville communities.
This year, the organization’s new Citizen Gardener Training will teach volunteers how to organize, build, and care for gardens. Citizen Gardener training is for individuals of all abilities,12 years old and up (minors must be accompanied by an adult), and no prior experience is necessary. Training is $20, and includes lunch and a Citizen Gardener T-shirt. Scholarships are available too. After certification, Citizen Gardeners will be offered volunteer opportunities such as building raised beds, working on the farm, or assisting in their greenhouse this spring.
Jefferson Memorial Forest
Perhaps this year’s political climate has you wanting to swing from the trees. Well, Jefferson Memorial Forest’s Go Ape program may be just the ticket to get you off of Twitter and into said trees. This attraction, which officially opens for the season March 24, is a zipline and treetop adventure course with about 45 challenge elements that will take you into the forest’s tree canopy. It’s not just zip-and-you’re-done; be prepared to spend as long as 2 1/2 hours (which includes training time). Better yet, Jefferson Memorial Forest also offers primitive camping sites so you can sleep under the stars and spend some time hiking too (they have over a dozen trails of various difficulty levels ranging from a quarter mile to 6 1/2 miles). The forest has over 6,600 acres of land and is the largest municipally-owned urban forest in the U.S.
and Research Forest
With over 14,500 acres, Bernheim is even bigger than Jefferson Memorial and also has a lot to offer. The staff there does a great job with its public programs, as well as with land preservation and research. You can grab a bite at the cafe in their visitor center (which also makes use of produce from their edible garden). It’s a great place to enjoy nature and take a hike. And I have it on good authority that Louisville’s own Jim James often stops by when he’s in town and has been known to post on Instagram. So you never know who you might see.
But the fun doesn’t stop when the sun goes down. The night programs at Bernheim will give you a sense of being behind the scenes by being there when most folks have already gone home. They have quarter moon hikes, laser guided star tours and star stories. It’s a thrilling way to learn a little about astronomy and nighttime science.
Yew Dell Botanical Gardens
Yew Dell Gardens, while not huge, is wonderful in its own right. It features a lot of really nice plantings, with a huge variety of hellebores and hostas. In fact, 300 different varieties of hostas and 75 different varieties of hellebores brighten the grounds. The organization even has a day (April 1) dubbed Hellebore Day. That’s also the day their garden gift shop opens and folks fill up the visitor center — lining up to get in.
Yew Dell was originally the home and commercial nursery of Theodore Klein and his family. Klein was known as a bit of a Renaissance man and did all the carvings you see on the buildings. The family had cats, and he lovingly carved their gravestones which are in a small pet cemetery on the grounds. While those carvings are more primitive, some of his later work is quite spectacular, such as the stone carving above the door of the castle. Yew Dell still has a resident cat, Remington, who is very friendly and took to my lap quite quickly on a recent visit. They have hiking trails, and you get a real sense of family walking around the grounds. In fact, employees think the place may be haunted and believe the spirit of Theodore still lives there. There have been instances of basement doors opening or closing unexpectedly when there isn’t any breeze or anyone there. But they all take it as part of Yew Dell’s unique character and beauty.
Louisville Nature Center
Everyone knows about the Louisville Zoo, but perhaps not everyone knows about their less-flashy cousin just across the street: the Louisville Nature Center. The small solar panel-panel-topped building has a library and activity room that is very popular with parents and kids. The Nature Center building is open 9 a.m.– 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday, but the Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve that is directly behind the building is available to visitors from dawn to dusk. The nature preserve has 41 acres and a loop trail that is broken into two parts. The entire loop is about a mile and a half, and the shorter version is a half mile which is relatively easy for young children. The preserve has a strict no-dogs, bikes and collecting rule. So, if you need a nature fix, and don’t want to schlep further afield, this is like a getaway in the middle of the city.
You don’t have to be a member of the LNC to hike the trails, or even to visit the nature center. There is no admission fee, but LNC does accept donations that go toward its mission of furthering nature education in Louisville.
And if that wasn’t enough, this spring they will be giving away 1,200 trees (each one a 3- to 5-foot sapling and all native trees), so you can get your hands dirty and do your part to help keep Louisville green.
Alpaca Haven Farm
If you are interested in taking a short drive, you might enjoy traveling to Waddy, Kentucky, to visit the Alpaca Haven Farm. A retired couple was interested in having a farm and after visiting a family in Tennessee that had alpacas, they were sold. They currently have 26 alpacas on site and officially open for the season April 1. You can contact them to take a farm tour (which takes about 1 to 1 1/2 hours). When we went, they had a new baby (called a cria) to show off. The couple has a lot of heart, and they truly love their new vocation. The tour is very hands-on — meaning you can touch and, perhaps, even be lucky enough to hold one of the smaller alpacas in your arms like we did on our last visit — and, by the end, you will be totally in love with these smart, curious and loving creatures. And don’t get me started on how soft alpaca fleece is. At the end of the tour you can visit the gift/fiber shop where you can buy some of the softest socks known to man.
Flea Off Market
If you’re into people watching, it doesn’t get much better than the Flea Off Market. The Flea is a flea market with a difference. Located in the East Market District, the Flea is typically held the first weekend of the month. It kicks off the season the first weekend of March.
In addition to the typical flea market fare, it has pet adoptions (we got our youngest cat there after we ventured into a super sized “kitten therapy tent” that was crawling with cute cats and kittens), food trucks, drinks, dancers, musicians and free workshops. Once, I even saw someone strolling around with their pet rabbit on a leash (a bit gutsy since it is also a very popular destination for folks walking around with their dogs), and it was no problem. The Flea is a place where folks (and sometimes their pets) just have fun and everyone gets along.
Falls of the Ohio State Park
Located just over the boarder at Exit 0 is Falls of the Ohio State Park. If you think fossils are cool (and who doesn’t), this is fossil heaven. The 390-million-year-old fossil beds are known to be one of the largest naturally exposed Devonian (the fourth period of the Paleozoic era, between the Silurian and Carboniferous, if you must know) fossil beds in the world. While taking rocks and fossils is strictly prohibited, it’s a great place to just walk around, explore and think of the primitive life that came before Donald Trump. As an added bonus, the half-mile Woodland Loop Trail features stainless steel sculptures designed by Louisville artist David Caudill that mark nearby plant life. The old wooden trail markers were replaced as part of an Eagle Scout project.
So, explore and try something new. Get outside. Reconnect with friends and loved ones. Maybe even take your rabbit for a walk. •