One of the better things about getting old (surpassed by the deferral of its alternative) is an appreciation for certain things which once seemed boring or even distasteful. Classical music, sautéed onions, and Scotch whisky are at the top of my list. Not far down is viewing the fall colors, a/k/a leaf peeping. We delighted in Raleigh’s four seasons, and have eagerly anticipated fall colors here. Kat still has three days a week free, leaving time to rest, plus some left over to explore.
Friday we drove to Bernheim Forest, a 14,000 acre tourist and research arboretum held in trust for the people of Kentucky. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who might sound familiar. He and his company designed Central Park in NYC, the Biltmore Estate, most of Louisville’s city park system, and a lot of Olmstead’s DNA lives on in modern landscape architecture. I. W. Bernheim, founder of the I. W. Harper bourbon distillery, bought the land for a dollar an acre in 1928. It was cheap because it was an abandoned strip mine depleted of ore, topsoil, and trees. It took 21 years to restore the land to something like a forest, and the park eventually opened in 1950. I. W. Harper was still around to pay the bills, and Bernheim had successfully followed the long philanthropic tradition of railroad robber barons, cigarette czars, oil monopolists, and today, Bill Gates (don’t you hate Windows 8!).
Bernheim features a rare chance to look at trees from a bird’s eye view with a bridge out over a hundred foot drop in terrain. Its Visitors Center is both environmentally friendly and architecturally interesting. The Center needs very little artificial lighting, has a parking lot so green I’m going to write one of these about its science, and of a late, they’ve added some large scale outdoor art. It has miles of foot trails, or you can tour paved roads in your auto or bicycle. There are no campsites but it is along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and there are some Corps of Engineers parks in driving distance.
How were the leaves? A storm the day before blew off a third of them, and many had not yet gone orange or red. Many survivors had turned though, and we enjoyed golden afternoon sunbeams filtered through a thinned canopy of yellow and orange.
The next time you’re in old Ken-tuck, check out Bernheim Forest.