We did not plan on hiking a venue that was another “rehabilitated sand and gravel quarry” so soon after our visit to Campbell Lakes Preserve, but wind gusts to 20 MPH had us leery of hiking in woods hosting dead ash snags.
Like Campbell Lakes Preserve, Conservancy Park was developed on the site of an abandoned quarry. The property was acquired in 2005 by The Boone Conservancy, a non-profit land trust “dedicated to the conservation of land in Boone County with unique or significant recreational, natural, scenic, or environmental value”. Following the guidelines of the Kentucky Division of Mine Reclamation and Enforcement, the Conservancy began the rehabilitation in 2007.
Over the years the Conservancy has partnered with Boone County Soil Conservation District, Boone County Parks and the local bird watching community to enhance the park with the addition of the Lee McNeely Birding Trail. It is a one mile loop that arises from the original trail that encircled the lake.
We are all familiar with the phrase “It takes a village” and that is the sense one gets as you work your way through the park. Many individuals, governmental agencies, groups, and business have played a role in bringing excellence to this facility.
From the parking area it is a mild downhill grade to the lake.
And like Campbell Lakes Preserve, one of the first things you notice is evidence of Beaver handiwork. Based on the second photo, this has been going on for a while as the character of the bitten off stems and the green twigs tell me that this Box-elder has had at least two seasons of regrowth since it was originally gnawed down.
But this time, different than at Campbell Lake Preserve, we could easily see the large Beaver lodge straddling the shore and the lake.
To be honest, the helter-skelter nature of the lodge left me less than impressed with the often lauded engineering of the Beaver. Here is a view of the lodge from the other direction.
Beavers are primarily nocturnal, and perhaps somewhat active at dawn or dusk, so the odds of seeing them during our midday winter hikes are low.
As the trail winds around the lake there is a side trail that takes you to an overlook bench.
Soon you come upon this shelter which is the starting point for the 1 mile Lee McNeely Birding Trail, which exits the lake shore and heads into a low lying valley of diverse plants.
Almost immediately one finds themselves passing through a large grouping of Scouring Rushes.
We have seen rushes numerous times on our hikes, but for some reason, on this day we appreciated something different about them. Their little fruiting bodies showed great variety of color and pattern. These “cones”” actually contain the spores of this plant, which is a cousin to the other spore producing plants, like ferns. The botany name for this is “fern allele”.
These encouraged the photographer to use her macro lens, for close up photography, as seen in the title photo and below. They have fascinating geometric designs.
I can honestly say that I have never spent 15 minutes studying rushes in such detail before, but it was time well spent.
Amongst the rushes we came upon a cluster of last season’s Goldenrod which featured a number of galls.
Galls develop on plants after some sort of infestation by an insect or fungus. In the case of Goldenrod, the Goldenrod Gall Fly deposits an egg into the tissues of the stem in the spring. The saliva of the developing larva has hormones that stimulates the growth of plant tissue around it, essentially developing a nursery cavity. The larva molts twice over the course of the summer. In the fall the mature larva chews a tunnel to the gall’s surface, leaving just a thin layer of tissue. Cold weather causes the larva to convert glycogen, a sugar, into glycol and sorbitol, which act as antifreeze, and allows it to overwinter. The following spring, after new Goldenrod shoots start to emerge, the larva pupates into an adult fly, and then exits through the previously established tunnel. Once free, they mate, and then deposit the eggs in the new stems, repeating the life cycle. The adult fly only lives outside the gall for about two weeks, so the majority of its life cycle is the various larval stages within the gall.
There are predators that feed on the Gall Fly larvae. Some wasps will deposit their eggs into a gall, with their larvae then feeding on the Gall Fly larvae. Also, both Downy Woodpeckers and Carolina Chickadees will break into the gall to feed upon the larvae.
When we were kids the frugal Burns boys and their friends would use galls as fishing bobbers, as their light weight allowed them to float on the surface of the water.
As we continued on the birding trail we came upon a pond that hosted a smaller Beaver lodge.
It was in this area that we had a laugh when we saw that what we presumed to be an optimistic Beaver had gnawed on this log that was about 8 inches in diameter. I would have had trouble getting those logs to the pond and it was hard for me to imagine an adult beaver, which typically weigh 40-60 pounds, maneuvering them to the shoreline. But when you look at the photos of the lodges, you see that indeed, the Beavers do somehow incorporate logs this size into the structure of their lodges.
The trail in the vicinity of the small pond presented the greatest terrain change of the outing – not insurmountable by any means, but enough to make the hike more challenging, especially on the damp path.
The birding trail ends in a meadow that includes native forbs, grasses, and shrubs.
Placed within the field is this birding platform, offering both views of the field as well as the larger lake. Perfect for a birding scope or binoculars.
Throughout the course of the hike we were seeing notable wildlife enhancements.
One of these includes the planting of native plants. Seen were:
River Cane – it is a native bamboo found throughout the Southeastern United States and was the keystone species for the Canebrake ecosystem which was common when settlers arrived, but is now rare. Canebrakes were frequently noted in the journals of settlers. It was grazed upon by cattle and many of its lands were converted into agriculture. Native Americans used this plant for many things including bows, arrows, spears, knives, traps, building construction, medicine, and basket weaving. Those pictured are only a couple feet tall but there were specimens up to 12 feet noted. The canes can get up to 3 inches wide and 30 feet tall.
River Oats – as the name implies it grows in lowlands along streams and rivers. It is an important food source for wildlife, many of whom eat its seeds. In addition, it is a larval food source for butterflies in the Skipper family.
Red Osier Dogwood – One of the most widespread of the Dogwood family, it occurs across the continental US, except in the true south. Its white berries and red twigs also make it an outstanding landscape plant in the garden.
There were others but they were dormant at this time of the year.
When one is on a birding trail one expects to see many birds, but this was early February, not prime birding season. We did see a Northern Mockingbird as well as a pair of Killdeer.
As mentioned, the Northern Kentucky birding community has been very involved in Conservancy Park and the Lee McNeely Birding Trail, and maintains a species list on the ebird.org website, which is hosted by Cornell University’s Ornithology Lab. To date, amazingly, 150 different species of birds have been identified on the 45 acres. At the end of the article I have added a link to Conservancy Park’s listing at the ebird site.
In summary, the rehabilitation of the land at Conservancy Park has been a job well done. While the trail is not long or particularly challenging, it is stimulating as there is something different to experience at every turn in the trail. I will be excited to return during a more active birding season given the species diversity documented there. And on an ecological wellness level, it warms my heart to see other groups and individuals engage in the nurturing and healing of the planet.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 5820 Burlington Pike, Burlington, Kentucky, 23 miles southwest of Downtown Cincinnati.
Parking – Large well maintained gravel lot.
Facilities – Porto-let in the parking area.
Trail Conditions – largely grass or bare dirt in good condition. The trail we took totaled about 1.3 miles.
Benches – Numerous
Picnic Tables – Numerous, mostly sheltered.
Kids – Kids four and over should do well.
Dogs – Welcomed on a 6 foot leash.
Paired Hiking Trails – None at Conservancy Park but both Middle Creek Park and Dinsmore Woods are within a couple of miles and have excellent wooded trails.