Thursday, September 13, 2007

184. Bernheim Forest

When my brother and I were little, our dad would pick us up on Saturday or Sunday for his weekly visitation. On many occasions, our mother - his ex-wife - would join us, mostly to control me and my brother, but also because my father was still enamored with the idea that my mother was still enamored with him, which was not the case. We went a lot of places over the years, sometimes just for activities in local parks in Louisville. Among those were swimming at Wyandotte, playing in the spray pool at Triangle (now called Stansbury, after the late mayor), or roaming the hills and dales of Cherokee or Iroquois Park. Outside of Louisville, we visited lots of places associated with Abraham Lincoln, places I still visit today. Some of those are in Kentucky and others are in Indiana, over in the area of what was then called Santa Claus Village, another regular stop. Beech Bend Park in Bowling Green was the furthest south we'd go on a day visit, stopping by Guntown Mountain on the way back at Cave City. To the north, we might end up at Spring Mill Park or somewhere around Bloomington. Thinking about it, we didn't go much east or west. That has never really occurred to me before this moment.

But of all those places, the place we went to the most was Bernheim Forest, a 14,000 acre nature preserve south of Louisville in Bullitt County. Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, a wealthy whiskey distiller and merchant, bought the mostly ill-used hilly farmland mostly in southern Bullitt County, with a few acres in western Nelson County in 1928. And although the forest was first officially established a year later, it wasn't until 1950 that it was opened to the public. Between those years, the Olmsted Design folks, the ones we know so well in Louisville, created on paper the spaces to be built which would soon become familiar to so many visitors. So our visits in the 1960s and 1970s were done while Bernheim was still in its early usage stages.

I remember the old Kingfisher pond, the Nature Center with its boxes where you could reach in and feel the fur of some unknown creature, paths with all the trees and flowers marked, and the cool black shale which lined the bottom of several of the creeks we used to walk alongside and into during our visits. At the top of the hill was a Fire Tower of which one could climb to the top and see forever it seemed. The Fire Tower itself sits just over three miles from the entrance to the Forest on KY 245, just east of Interstate 65. KY 245 was the original Poor Farm Road in Bullitt County in the Leaches Precinct. The Bullitt County Fairgrounds still sits along the road, right at the I-65 intersection.

Bernheim has been on my mind this week in a melancholy sort of way. My father has not been well for a few weeks and so, for a restorative type visit, he and my mother - the ex-wife of 44 years, have made a visit to the Forest, mostly just to sit and relax and take it all in. (I should add here that in the ensuing years since the weekly visitations, they have become very good friends). Last Christmas, one of my presents to them was a membership in the Forest Association, allowing them to visit at will. At will finally arrived this week. Dad can't get around like he did when we used walked the edges of every creek and lake, and followed all the paths winding around the place, but the enjoyment of the place is still an easy task. Truthfully, I doubt that I could journey all those paths anymore myself.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Your musings have reminded me how much my family and I enjoy that special forest. I think we'll go this weekend!


The Archives at Milepost 606


Louisville, Kentucky, United States
Never married, liberal Democrat, born in 1960, opinionated but generally pleasant, member of the Episcopal Church. Graduate of Prestonia Elementary, Durrett High, and Spalding University; the first two now-closed Jefferson County Public Schools, the latter a very small liberal arts college in downtown Louisville affiliated with the Roman Catholic Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. My vocation and avocation is politics. My favorite pastime is driving the backroads of Kentucky and southern Indiana, visiting small towns, political hangouts, courthouses, churches, and cemeteries. You are welcome to ride with me sometime.