Just after passing through the park’s main gatehouse, you’ll arrive at a dry-laid stone wall and gate, which have been built to welcome visitors in classic Kentucky style as they approach the Visitor Center and playing fields. Located in the middle of a roundabout, the structure was created by a team certified masons from the Dry Stone Conservancy, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving and building dry-laid stone structures, while at the same time training people in the craft. These skilled artisans prepared, dressed and laid stone sourced from the park itself. Completed in August, it is surrounded by beds which park landscape manager Mac Jeffs and his crew have filled with native grasses and wildflowers, including our state flower, the goldenrod. These new limestone walls echo the many miles of rock fences lining pikes and lanes which were built along Central Kentucky’s farmlands over a century ago. Chris Harp, executive director of the Dry Stone Conservancy, explains “The feature is a traditional Kentucky stone entrance that you would have encountered in the early to mid-19th century.” A small pond serves as a backdrop, while the entrance loop is overlooked by a sculpture of the legendary Man o’ War, with nearby remembrances for Kentucky-bred Thoroughbred and 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral and jockey Isaac Murphy, all surrounded by a winner’s circle of roses and fountains.
If you follow along the stream bank of Cane Run Creek further into the park, you’ll see that another uniquely Kentucky project, this time aimed at improving water quality by establishing a riparian buffer zone with native wildflowers, grasses and trees, has taken root. Brochures which list suggested specimens for planting, and discuss best practices for managing water quality around equine pastures, are available at the site. Kentucky Cooperative Extension Water Quality Liaison Amanda Abnee Gumbert, whose mission includes improving riparian buffer zones within the entire Cane Run watershed, says “We hope visitors to the park will see this as a demonstration of what they can do on their own property to protect streams and improve water quality.”
It’s an educational message of world-wide importance. Of special interest to horse owners with land along waterways, this planting demonstrates practical, sustainable and ecologically sound solutions to better shelter wildlife, prevent erosion, and retain storm water where it’s needed while filtering out pollutants. But this presentation is more than simply functional: it’s also a work of ecological art. Instead of an open pasture cut straight to the waterway, a “no mow” zone now holds a charming array of brightly colored native wildflower blossoms: deep pink Echinacea, golden orange coneflower, spikes of great blue lobelia and white Joe Pye weed, all magnets for thousands of butterflies, moths and other insects; shade from trees like white swamp oak and bald cypress will have a cooling effect. The greenery, planted in May of this year, survived a long hot, dry spell and is thriving beautifully. Gumbert says that the project is a partnership supported by the park, the U.K. College of Agriculture’s Cane Run Watershed Project, M2D Designers, and the Bluegrass Partnership for a Green Community.
An entirely different sort of plot tucked in behind plank fencing is the Governor’s Garden, which can be found in the yard just next to the park’s historic Farmhouse. One of seven vegetable gardens around the state begun in an initiative by Kentucky’s First Lady Jane Beshear to promote home and community gardens, it calls attention to the benefits of growing and consuming healthy food close to home. Other Governor’s Gardens can be found in Frankfort, Hazard, Florence, Paducah, Bowling Green, and the state fair grounds at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville. Student volunteers from the Scott County High School FFA chapter are maintaining the Kentucky Horse Park garden; during the equestrian events, chefs participating in celebrity chef dinners will have access to the produce grown there. “To have the opportunity to promote gardening on a world stage like the World Equestrian Games is an ideal way to show that Kentucky is committed to good health and reducing our carbon footprint,” Mrs. Beshear said. “Premiere chefs from all over the United States will be impressed while cooking with vegetables grown right here in the Bluegrass; a secret our local chefs already know.”
These gardens showcase the natural elegance and synchronicity of what we Kentuckians experience every day: a graceful and enriching marriage of the horse and the land that we love.
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