Friday, June 15, 2001

State acquires second half of old-growth forest

The Associated Press

        HARLAN — The Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission has closed an $879,407 deal to acquire the second half of the 2,580-acre Blanton Forest in Harlan County and will celebrate Saturday.

        The area was previously the largest unprotected old-growth stand of trees in the eastern United States.

        The commission celebration will run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Camp Blanton, a 10-acre facility near the eastern Kentucky forest that has been used by Scouting groups for decades.

[photo] Blanton Forest State Nature Preserve has changed little since this 1995 photo was taken. It has many 300- to 400-year-old trees.
(Associated Press photo)
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        Essentially untouched by loggers, the forest contains many 300- to 400-year-old trees that reach 100 to 150 feet. The trunks of some are 2 to 3 feet in diameter.

        “These (old-growth) ecosystems are exceedingly rare,” Mr. Scott said.

        “Who knows what secrets we've yet to uncover associated with the plants and animals that live there?”

        Some of the trees are the same ones that settlers saw after coming through the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

        “It has a very wild, unkempt look,” said Marc Evans, senior ecologist with the commission.

        “There are downed trees and old snags,” he said, and trees of different ages and sizes. “This is the way a forest is supposed to look.”

        This week's acquisition of the land from a Blanton family heir, Louisville-area resident Alma Smukler, completes the commission's plan of protecting the core old-growth area of the forest.

        But the commission, working with the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, ultimately intends to protect a total of 6,700 acres, including the 2,580 acres of old growth and surrounding buffer zone through either outright purchase or acquisition of conservation easements.

        “It will be the largest state nature preserve,” said Kathleen Lancaster, the trust's development director.

        The trust, which has a goal of raising $3.5 million for the Blanton project, bought the property from Smukler for $915,756 and sold it to the state at a discount.

        The state intends to open the forest to the public, for hiking only, by fall. There are no plans to turn the property into a resort park, Mr. Scott said.


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