FRANKFORT, Ky. — The land in rural Henry County had everything that Eugene Lacefield was looking for. It was an interesting plot complete with woods, hills and hollows, the last farm on a dead-end road. So, he and his wife Mary Margaret Lowe purchased the land in 1978.
Over the next few decades, they perfected their eco-friendly farmhouse. They spent afternoons picnicking next to Drennon Creek and evenings sitting on the porch, watching the sunset.
“As the years went by, we were growing more and more fond of this land — hiking it and building trails and enjoying it,” Lacefield said. And it occurred to them, Lowe chimed in, that other people might enjoy it, too.
Last year, Lowe and Lacefield decided to begin the process of donating 342 of their 350 acres to the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves, part of the Energy and Environment Cabinet, which will protect the land and use it to restore federally endangered species. Just in time for the holidays, the land was dedicated as Drennon Creek State Nature Preserve. As a result, the land will enjoy the highest level of conservation in the Commonwealth for protecting rare species.
“A donation like this doesn’t come along very often,” said Zeb Weese, executive director of the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (KNP). What makes Lowe and Lacefield’s land unique, he said, is its potential for restoring Braun’s rockcress, a federally endangered species.
Restoration is an important part of saving a species from extinction and removing its endangered status. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed Braun’s rockcress, or Boechera perstellata, as endangered in 1995, and Nature Preserves botanists and managers have been working ever since to delist one of the Commonwealth’s rarest plants.
Identifiable by its lanceolate leaves and the small white or lavender flowers produced in mid- to late-spring, Braun’s rockcress is only found in three Kentucky counties — Franklin, Henry and Owen — and two counties in Tennessee. The couple’s property is located near the world’s northernmost population of Braun’s rockcress.
Weese said KNP will first focus on planting Braun’s rockcress on the donated property and managing invasive competitors so the endangered species can thrive. Once a healthy and sustainable population has been established, KNP will explore making the land accessible to the public with hiking trails and other amenities. The site also has potential for restoration of another federally endangered plant, globed bladderpod (Physaria globosa), and several rare mussel species.
The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves owns more than 19,000 acres protected as nature preserves across the Commonwealth. The office’s foremost mission is to protect land recognized for its natural significance including protecting rare species. But it also works to conserve land for “passive” recreational activities like hiking and bird watching.For Lowe and Lacefield, who have backgrounds in education and have always cared deeply about the environment, the decision to donate the land was rooted in a desire to do something that would benefit everyone who would use it.
“We were amazed … that two people could offer and provide a state nature preserve for all of Kentucky and surrounding peoples to come visit,” Lacefield said.
The couple intends to perform day-to-day maintenance of the state nature preserve as volunteer stewards. They also hope that their donation encourages others to think about ways they can make a difference. “Every person can be involved with improving, protecting and conserving the environment,” Lowe said.
For additional information, visit https://eec.ky.gov/Nature-Preserves/