For me the hiking year can be broken down into seasons and I’m happy to say that in Kentucky we have now entered what I will call Meadow Season. This is when the first flowering plants start to bloom in our fields and prairies, initiating another lifecycle for many of the pollinators.
I do not remember how I came across this hiking venue as it has been on our list of potential hikes for over a year. The Toyota Biodiversity Trail has an excellent website (see link below) with the tag line, “Let’s Make a Better Planet”, and outlines how features of the Biodiversity Trail can be replicated elsewhere to broaden the environmental impact and promote biodiversity.
We parked across the road from the trailhead at the stand alone fitness center for the Toyota plant. The quality of the trailhead marker suggested that this was an embraced facility.
The first segment of trail is asphalt and could function as a short, out and back, “all persons” trail that traverses the margin of a large meadow. This section is called the “Pollinator Passage”.
And while it had a rather suburban feel to it, what was most noticeable were the diverse species of birds that we had seen in the first 50 yards: Redwing Blackbirds, a Turkey Vulture, Swallows, American Goldfinches, and House Wrens. Then this deer crossed in front of us in full loping gait.
The other thing that struck us was that the meadow was alive with vibrant colors as noted in the title photo. These were the first field wildflowers of the season for us in Kentucky.
There are 5 trails in the venue and they weave their way on the edge of the meadow, around a lake, and through some immature woods.
Throughout the trail system there are educational stations that touch on everything from ecosystem reflections, to how Toyota has changed their business practices for the good of the environment.
Cattail Lake is 1.5 acres in size and has the wild, unmanicured edge that is important to wildlife. On the shore is a well designed bird blind, perfect for observing the activity on the lake.
This is the view from the blind.
The blind closes entirely down to keep varmints out. The photo below shows me removing a spider web from just outside the portal when I opened it up.
Shortly after leaving the blind we had this encounter with a Great Blue Heron, the icon of the preserve.
Most of what you see on the lake’s surface is Duck Weed, but there is some moss. We were perplexed by what activity left these linear markings upon the Duck Weed.
We saw several butterflies, including this Cabbage White, using the duck weed as a resting spot while hydrating.
Following our trip around the lake we opted to take the Morizukuri Corridor. Morizukuri is a Japanese concept that means “to create a forest”. They do this by planting groupings of native trees and grasses in a single spot. It is often used to help offset man’s disturbance of nature. This trail winds along a woodland border,
and that is were we saw many healthy young native trees, including this White Oak.
At this point the trail turns back toward the center of the property, and after a small grade we enter the Chinkapin Arch Trail. All these intersections are well marked.
While this wood is not old, primarily consisting of early succession trees like Black Locust, Walnut, and Hackberry, the shade is significant and welcomed on this cloudless June day. And like everywhere on this facility, you are invited to sit down and take in the setting.
This path, which heads back toward the lake, hosts an outstanding shoreline gazebo that offered additional views of the lake and its wildlife.
The focal point of the gazebo was this display of a cross section from a massive tree trunk, pointing out historical time stamps on the tree rings.
Little did I know that this would represent a big disappointment for me. One of the driving interests to come to this place was to see a trophy size Chinkapin Oak, considered one of the largest in Kentucky, that was along the trail. Unfortunately, it had been blown down in a relatively recent storm. We did find the stump, which measured approximately 9 feet across at ground level. As can be seen in this photo, the heart wood of the tree, which provides its structural strength, was not healthy and that would account for its susceptibility to the wind. This big tree lover was very disappointed. Now the remnants are there, being recycled back into nature, as the philosophy of this place would demand.
Our final trail of the day was the Bluebird Loop. It featured a collection of Bluebird boxes that were well utilized. We liked the ones that featured a plexiglass panel which allows viewing inside the box.
I mentioned earlier the numerous wildflowers that we saw in the meadow along the walk.
Nodding Thistle – it is a non-native, originating in Europe. The tell tale identifier is the starburst bracts that surround the flower. It is still beautiful however. They grow up to nine feet in height and in June some were already well above our heads.
This tall specimen has a desert plant look to it.
Oxeye Daisy – another native to Europe. But it is forgiven by the photographer since daisies are “the friendliest flower”.
Yellow Wood Sorrel – notice its clover like leaves. It develops a seed capsule that explodes when ripe, throwing its seeds up to a yard away from the parent plant.
Winter Vetch – this is another native of Europe and its presence may be a holdover from the property’s farming past. It is an annual and has many uses in farming including being a “green” fertilizer, adding nitrogen to the soil.
Moth Mullien – native to Eurasia, it has become naturalized in many parts of the U.S. It is a biannual, with flowers arising in its second year.
Wild Garlic – these are not actually flowers in this photo but rather a different type of reproductive structure. They hold small bulbets that when dislodged from the stem can become another plant.
Carolina Thistle – a native plant, with a feasting Cabbage White butterfly. The flower head is much smaller than those of Nodding Thistle and Field Thistle.
Hairy Angelica – is a common inhabitant of prairies and woodland edges in the Eastern U.S. It is an important nectar source for pollinators. We like its lace-like appearance.
Lance-Leaf Coreopsis – occurs across much of the U.S. and is a favorite of pollinators.
Daisy Fleabane – it was thought that the dried flowers could rid a home of fleas.
Spiderwort – common flower throughout much of the eastern U.S. The flowers can range from a pastel blue to violet. It was used to treat spider bites.
Deptford Pink – one of our favorite wildflowers, it is actually a non-native named for Deptford, England, which is now part of London. Perhaps my British heritage wins me over.
Carolina Petunia – guide books frequently have these placed under pink flowers but to my experience they are generally on the purple spectrum. Notice the small pollinator flying in for some nutrition.
Lemon Beebalm – We literally gasped with excitement when we saw this and it was the highlight of the day. It is a native but not included in either my Audubon Wildflowers of the Eastern United States or Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky field guides, suggesting that it is somewhat rare. It is also called Horsemint and Lemon Mint. Its leaves smell lemony when crushed. Many species of bees and butterflies are attracted to this plant. It has a unique structure with a central stem with layers of bracts and flowers encircling it.
In addition to the flowers, the birds were outstanding.
This female Redwing Blackbird has a collection of green insect larvae in her mouth and is probably on her way back to her nest amongst the cattails.
A male Redwing Blackbird in flight.
This House Wren tolerated our presence and danced around on the top to this birdhouse.
In addition to Eastern Bluebirds, the Eastern Bluebird Loop had a lot of American Goldfinches. Unfortunately the Bluebirds sightings were fleeting and we could not get a photo.
Lastly, was this observation as we worked our way through the wood. We saw this on the ground at the base of a Wild Cherry tree and initially thought that it was an ant hill.
But closer observation showed that it was “saw dust”. We then noted an open wound in the tree, about 5 feet off the ground. Here we could see Carpenter Ants at work, exporting their excavation debris to the forest floor. Like the Chinkapin Oak, with the destruction of the heartwood, this tree’s lifespan in limited.
In summary, our visit to the Toyota Biodiversity Trail was a fun and rewarding outing. I love to see corporations walking the walk with regards to sustaining the environment. This facility is a testimony to Toyota’s commitment to both the local community and Planet Earth. It is well done, offering exercise, education, relaxation, and a sense of place. While there were many non-native flowers species present, I have to admit that they added to the beauty and certainly the wildlife were utilizing them. I’m going to have to accept that this is the new normal in some ecosystems. The positive here was that they appeared to be integrated into the native plant population, rather than dominating it as some of the invasive non-natives do. On reflection, with the ubiquitous benches and the gazebo, this would be an ideal place to take a book, slow down, and observe nature at a snail’s pace.
Footpathsblog.com posts are released every Sunday morning and some bonus content is added periodically. Please click on a social media icon above to follow for future posts and to make sure that you catch all our reflections on, and adventures with, the great outdoors.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 120 Family Circle Drive, Georgetown, KY. It is 68 miles south of downtown Cincinnati and just a mile or so off the interstate.
Parking – large asphalt lot at the Toyota Employee Fitness Center.
Facilities – none.
Trail Conditions – the first few hundred yards are asphalt. Then the trail is a wide mulched path. The trails total 1.8 miles.
Benches – numerous.
Picnic Tables – none seen.
Kids – kids three and older should do well. The interconnecting trails would allow you to select a distance appropriate for your group.
Dogs – prohibited.