There are times, when after completing a hike, that I can not wait to get to the keyboard to compose an article reflective on the experience. I would be full of excitement and already have a theme in mind. That was not the case with the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve. I am writing this 3 weeks after our early November visit, still trying to digest the outing.
I stumbled onto this facility after Googling “Kentucky Nature Preserves”, mainly looking for preserves associated with the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources. What enticed me to pursue a visit were the 7 trails and the mention of a “towering sycamore with four trunks”. I’m a collector of experiences with trophy trees. Also, the fact that we were heading south and would be picking up a few degrees of temperature during a cold spell was attractive.
Ruth Creasey Mahan and Howard Mahan, being lovers of nature, started the preserve on their 168 acre horse and cattle farm in 1975. The title photo above shows Mahan Lane, the pathway leading to the numerous trails that crisscross the property. It is the remnant of the old farm driveway. When you pass through the arch at the end of Mahan Lane you find yourself at the intersection of the more formal parts of the preserve: a naturalized garden to the left and an arboretum to the right.
As a gardener, as well as a naturalist, I did find the setting relaxing, but it was not what I expected of a “nature preserve”.
From here we headed out via the Sycamore Crest Trail in pursuit of the big sycamore. To be honest, the trails we found did not seem to follow what was outlined on the map. It appeared that trails were mowed some what hap-haphazardly through the open fields and areas undergoing plant succession. We were not able to locate the prized sycamore, although I did find a massive stump that may have been its remnant. Looking across the horizon, I could not find a sycamore that would warrant such mention.
We decided to follow the trails that seemed to course the perimeter of the preserve. We were not sure exactly what trail we were on as the map had assigned letters to the trails but the trail signage utilized images.
We were not concerned about getting lost as “civilization” was within eyesight or earshot to our left, we could position ourselves on Google Maps, and frankly the trails were well maintained so you were unlikely to wander off them.
In the northwestern corner of the plot we found ourselves traveling a trail that tunneled through a thicket of invasive Bush Honeysuckle and Autumn Olive.
There was virtually no visibility due to the thickness of the brush – we could hear birds but could not see them.
It appeared that this area was, in fact, a mass casualty site of American White Ash that had succumbed to Emerald Ash Borer. If we peered through the boughs of the thick honeysuckle we would see the carcasses of the ashes. Apparently the loss of the massive ash canopy allowed abundant sunlight to reach the former forest floor leading to the overgrowth of the invasive species.
The detective work to indict Emerald Ash Borer for this tragedy was not challenging. The tell tale borer markings were obvious – unfortunate arboreal hieroglyphics.
These borings damage the phloem, cambium and outer xylem layers of the tree which lay just beneath the bark, affecting the trees vascular system, leading to its death.
Once we exited this part of the preserve we found ourselves working our way along a ridge with a field to our right and a wooded valley on our left. The most mature trees on the property border Huckleberry Creek that runs across the northeastern quadrant. We descended across the valley and continued through a younger wood that consisted of maples and oaks. This was a very relaxing stretch of trail.
We still had the issue with the trail signage but eventually found ourselves at the eastern edge of the park overlooking a playground and some soccer fields. We crossed these to a native grassland in its fall dress, and to visit a restored historic spring house, which dates to 1803. The cool spring water acted as an early form of refrigeration for storage of food.
Nearby I was able to get my big tree fix when we came across this massive Silver Maple in a picnic/outdoor classroom area. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo, it had lost two large branches recently.
One thing I like about heading south is the frequency of seeing Mistletoe. At Creasey Mahan we saw it in several large trees.
I tend to think of Violets being spring and early summer flowers but we did find this specimen during the first week of November.
And this guy had snuggled in on this cold day and there was no getting his attention. Squirrel? Raccoon? Other?
And it takes a special photographer to make a Common Crow look this majestic.
There is an integration between the preserve and the neighborhood with the Harmony Park Playground. It can be accessed from the preserve or via a separate parking area from the nearby neighborhood. It appeared to be an outstanding facility to allow kids to expel some energy.
Included was this work in progress, a sort of climbable art, of what appears to be a large reptile or dinosaur, with the large rock to the left being its head.
On reflection, as a tree guy, I really did not take advantage of this opportunity to peruse the arboretum collection. Per the Preserve’s website the trees are relatively young. We did however eat lunch in the shade of a nice bald cypress sporting these cones.
At several locations we saw young plantings of American Chestnut hybrids, a formal program by the American Chestnut Foundation, trying to replace some of the billions of Chestnuts lost to Chestnut Blight between the 1880’s and 1950’s.
In summary, this is an interesting facility, but it is not a demanding hike. It is a nice place for a stroll. In my mind it is more of a nature center or environmental education facility than a “nature preserve”, but still it has a lot to offer. I am sure that it is an excellent green space and resource for this neighborhood and the Louisville region. The day that we were there it was teeming with groups of kids and I am sure that it is a great experience for them. I hope to return with a more broad expectation of what it has to offer and to spend more time in the naturalized garden and arboretum. And perhaps pair it with a visit to one of Louisville’s outstanding craft breweries:)
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Parking – nice lot off Harmony Landing Road.
Facilities – Separate building near the parking lot.
Trail Conditions – Excellent condition but trail markings were challenging. I suspect that with repeat visits that it would be easier to get one’s bearings. For the most part the terrain is relatively flat and accessible to most walkers.
Benches – There are numerous benches throughout the facility. Many appear to have been a part of various Eagle Scout projects and are well done. There are also numerous picnic tables in nice settings.
Kids – Kids of all ages will do well here. The trails are relatively flat and manageable for short legs. The playground gives another option for entertaining young ones.
Dogs – “Well behaved dogs on a leash are welcomed”.
Suggested Paired Hikes – For gardeners it would be great to pair a visit here with one at Yew Dell Gardens which is only 12 miles away. Yew Dell is an outstanding display garden and garden education center that is open to the public for a small fee.