The Parklands of Floyds Fork is a pioneering non-profit that started in 2004, with the goal of expanding metropolitan Louisville’s parks to meet the outdoor recreational needs of the growing population in the 21st century. The Parklands is really a park of parks, consisting of 4 separate parks totaling over 4000 acres, tied together geographically with wildlife corridors along Floyds Fork Creek, a 62 mile tributary to the Salt River, that runs east and south of Louisville. It is located in a more rural area in anticipation of the Louisville population moving that direction and needing green space.
We chose to hike the Wild Hyacinth Trail as the 2.07 mile distance is in the range that we look for, and on-line reviews suggested that it was the best “family trail” in the Parklands.
The trailhead is located at the parking area of the 200 year old Ben Stout House, a restored stone frontier home. There is an informational kiosk there and a map on display which I suggest you take a photo of as there are no detailed printed maps on site.
The early part of the trail traverses a mid age woods and is remarkable for the number of stones on the surface.
Being one who is frequently studying the tree canopy this necessitated more careful striding.
Soon one leaves the woods to cross a utility right of way that was hosting numerous wildflowers.
Queen Anne’s Lace – a member of the carrot family whose root is edible.
Hairy Buttercup – noted by the waxy sheen of its petals. Buttercups are somewhat poisonous and milk from cows that have eaten them has an unpleasant flavor and reddish color.
Spiny-leaved Sow Thistle – This dandelion like flower is held 2 feet off the ground. It is native to Europe and historically the leaves were cooked for greens like collards or kale.
Carolina Wild Petunia – with its trumpet shaped flower it is a favorite of the pollinators, especially hummingbirds.
Tickseed – a cousin of the common garden plant Coreopsis.
But the floral star of the show was this Nodding Thistle, a European introduction with a dramatic 2 inch flower head, which was being visited by a pair of pollinators.
Once across the right of way we entered the main body of the trail. It wove around hillsides with only short grade changes. For the most part the trees looked 40 to 50 years old but occasionally you would encounter one of the legacy trees, felt to date back to the time when the area was a farm, and these larger trees probably provided shade to livestock. It was a mixed wood of Red Oak, Chinkapin Oak, White Oak, Chestnut Oak, Pignut Hickory, Shagbark Hickory, Beech, Sugar Maple, and Pawpaw in the understory. The completeness of the overstory on this brilliantly sunny day resulted in a slight green hue to everything on the forest floor, including the trail, the rocks and the hikers. This can be seen on some of the photos.
The trail crossed numerous small streams that had shallow but moving water.
These allowed us to search for amphibians and invertebrates under the rocks, one of my favorite creek activities.
While we did not find any salamanders on this outing, we did find numerous crayfish, some large, some tiny.
I have mentioned before that my new emphasis on slowing down when hiking has allowed me to see so much more, and such was the case when we took some time to truly observe the common Water Strider, an insect that most everyone has seen. They were very numerous and active in the small pools of the creeks, as noted in this video.
But what intrigued us were the shadows of these small insects, which appeared much larger on the creek floor than the insects themselves. I had never noted that before. In this photo you can compare the size of the striders to the size and shapes of their shadows.
This photo of a single Water Strider demonstrates it more clearly.
What accounts for the oval parts of the shadows with the insect’s appendages being so thin?
The Water Strider’s 6 legs are covered in thousands of microscopic hairs that have tiny grooves. As reported in National Geographic, “These grooves trap air, increasing water resistance of the water strider’s legs and overall buoyancy of the insect.” There is in effect, a little air bubble, like a kid’s pool floaty, that prevents the appendage from overcoming the surface tension of the water, and allows the insect to stay above the surface. I suspect that it is the refraction of sunlight through this “bubble” that results in the pod like shadow. This photo shows the outline of those bubbles.
Other research has shown that this effect allows the insect to support fifteen times its weight without sinking.
As seen in the video, the Water Striders have amazing speed which allows them to catch prey. They primarily feed on other water insects, especially mosquito larvae. The mosquito larvae breath through a snorkel like tube that they poke up through the water surface to get air. Using their smaller front legs, the striders will grab them by the snorkel and penetrate the larvae with their mouth parts, feeding on their internal liquids. As for their speed, National Geographic reported that it would be the equivalent of a human swimming 400 miles per hour.
About half way through the hike we came upon a 100 yard stretch of trail that featured an abundance of ferns. We noted at least 3 species of ferns over the distance. The tree canopy was very dense, limiting the light reaching the forest floor, which accounts for the abundance of these shade loving ferns on this north facing slope, and the somewhat dark photographs.
Christmas Fern – one of the evergreen ferns of Kentucky.
Sensitive Fern – named such because it will wither at the earliest frost.
Maidenhair Fern – has rich ebony colored leaf stems, and a fan shape to its branching.
In the photo below an immature Sensitive Fern is nestled in amongst two Christmas Ferns.
Perhaps the most interesting fern photo is this one.
My initial impression was that it was two different species of ferns but it is actually two biotype variations of Maidenhair Fern; with significant color differences, and with the specimen on the left having more space between the leaf stem (pinna) and the leaflets. Just nature throwing this amateur fern studier a curve ball. (I appreciate the assistance of Aaron Boggs, horticulturist at the Parklands of Floyds Fork for clarification on that oddity).
And finally this impressive bank of ferns, as we made the turn to head back out of the loop.
In a previous post I mentioned that sometimes you will see something on the forest floor that suggests what is going on in the canopy. Such was the case here when we noted these quarter inch bell shaped flowers laying on the trail.
Due to a thick midstory of trees and shrubs, just glancing up did not give the answer. However, study of the bark on nearby trees did; the “alligator skin” bark of a Persimmon tree, which was the source of the flowers on the forest floor.
Shortly after the fern bank the trail dropped down to once again cross a stream.
This led into a younger open woodland with dappled sunlight and expansive vistas.
Evidence that this was historically a farm was confirmed with this hardscape of an old stone wall.
Along the way toward our exit, we had encounters with some notable flora (plant life) and fauna (animal life). First was this forest floor blanket of Wild Ginger.
Also seen was this Indigo Bunting, who probably had a nest nearby as she was intent on distracting us.
And finally one of the many Meadow Fritillary butterflies that we saw on this hike.
Several times during the hike we came upon the plant namesake for the trail, Wild Hyacinth. It was past its late April/early May flowering period and now sported a raceme of seeds capsules.
As is common in a moist wood, interesting fungi seemed to be everywhere.
In summary, I can understand why the Wild Hyacinth Trail is well recommended, especially for families with young children. Its terrain is easily manageable and there is a lot to be observed at the eye level of children. In addition, the streams, with their low water level and slow current, bring aquatic wildlife within easy and safe reach of kids. For adults, the diversity of plants, and ferns in particular, is fun and stimulating. There was something new around every corner, if you just slow down enough to see it.
Finally, The Parklands of Floyds Fork in itself is a rather novel and impactful concept. A non-profit organization providing much needed public access to outdoor recreation, through private ownership and administration of parks. They rely on support from individuals, corporations and foundations for their funding needs. They do not receive any recurring governmental financial backing. The Parklands are based on the Olmstedian idea, which was the concept behind the original Louisville parks developed by the landscape architectural firm The Olmsted Brothers in the 1890s: Obtain significant green space on the outskirts of a population center, build a noteworthy park, and wait for the population growth to bring the people to you. But on top of that forward thinking proposal, the Parklands blended it with the more contemporary wildlife management practice of utilizing wildlife corridors along a waterway to increase the diversity and productivity of the land under management. Brilliant! We will certainly be back to the Parklands for more adventure in the great outdoors.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns. Video courtesy of Caroline Burns.
Parking – Excellent paved lot for about twenty cars at the Ben Stout House.
Facilities – Porto-let at parking lot.
Trail Conditions – The trail is a combination out and back, and loop. Basically shaped like a lolly pop. It was generally wide and well marked. The surface is frequently bare dirt and was rocky in places as noted. The terrain is relatively flat with the exception of some short but relatively steep climbs, especially up out of the creek beds. There were numerous creek crossings but they were easily manageable even on a day after rain.
Print Map Link – http://slucherville.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Wild-Hyacinth-Trail-MapV2.pdf (This was borrowed from the Slucherville website as it was the best map that I found).
Benches – One, where the trail crosses the Louisville Loop Bike/All Person Trail.
Kids – Kids 5 and over should do well here, with minimal assistance, and the creeks are ideal for “hands on” aquatic play.
Dogs – Welcomed while on a leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – There are numerous trails within the Parklands, and Turkey Run Park itself has 5 additional trails, ranging from 0.92 miles to 2.3 miles. I have penciled in a hike on the Boone Bottoms Trail for later this summer as it appears to take you through a bottomland meadow which should be in flower, and along a stream bank.