Hiking trail dedicated to 30-year nature preserve employee

July 15, 2017
Kentucky State Nature Preserve Commission employee Joyce Bender, second from right, was honored with the naming of a hiking trail at Crooked Creek Nature Preserve in her honor. Pictured, left to right, are KSNPC Executive Director Zeb Weese, Ecologist Martina Hines, Chairman Carl Breeding, Zeb Henry Weese, Bender, and Site Manager Shaun Ziegler. - Dennis Brown Photo

Kentucky State Nature Preserve Commission employee Joyce Bender, second from right, was honored with the naming of a hiking trail at Crooked Creek Nature Preserve in her honor. Pictured, left to right, are KSNPC Executive Director Zeb Weese, Ecologist Martina Hines, Chairman Carl Breeding, Zeb Henry Weese, Bender, and Site Manager Shaun Ziegler. – Dennis Brown Photo

A hiking trail at Crooked Creek Nature Preserve in Lewis County was dedicated Saturday with several officials, naturalists and neighbors on-hand for the event.

The trail was dedicated in honor of Joyce Bender, a 30-year employee of the Kentucky State Nature Preserve Commission (KSNPC). Following the dedication Bender led a hike on the 1.35 mile trail for those attending.

Bender, who is retiring this summer, was surprised by the dedication and held back tears as she humbly acknowledged the honor.

“It is hard to realize that there is just this one last hike (before my retirement),” Bender said.

“Today we are here at the trail dedication of Crooked Creek State Nature Preserve,” said Zeb Weese, Eastern Regional Nature Preserve Manager.

“We are naming this trail that we dedicate today the Joyce Bender Trail in her honor,” Weese said.

“I hope you all enjoy the hike that we’re going to have today,” Bender said. “I really think this trail is a special one. Not because it’s my last one but because it really does give us a nice cross-section of the land here.”

“I really appreciate this, youall. It’s so sweet,” she said of the honor.

Weese said Bender has spent most of her 30 years at KSNPC as branch manager for natural areas.

“This is her last big public event before her retirement,” he said.

“If you’ve hiked anywhere on any of our nature preserves over the last 30 years, Joyce has laid out the trail; Joyce has done the Weed Eating; Joyce has done the ditch digging; Joyce has dug the holes for the posts,” Weese said.

“We actually purchased property here for the first time about 20 years ago,” he said, adding that most of the funding for such projects come from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund. The money for the fund is generated by sales of nature license plates.

“This whole time we’ve been managing it for habitat,” Weese said. “There are some interesting species here.”

Weese said the preserve in the past hasn’t been open to the public due to no local entity to help in maintaining the parking lot and the trails.

The hiking trail at Crooked Creek Nature Preserve was dedicated Saturday with several officials present. Pictured, left to right, are State Representative Rocky Adkins, Kentucky State Nature Preserve Commission Executive Director Zeb Weese, Lewis County Judge-Executive Todd Ruckel and KSNP Stewardship Manager Joyce Bender. - Dennis Brown Photo

The hiking trail at Crooked Creek Nature Preserve was dedicated Saturday with several officials present. Pictured, left to right, are State Representative Rocky Adkins, Kentucky State Nature Preserve Commission Executive Director Zeb Weese, Lewis County Judge-Executive Todd Ruckel and KSNP Stewardship Manager Joyce Bender. – Dennis Brown Photo

“Fortunately, Judge-Executive Todd Ruckel jumped on board here recently and we’re entering into a partnership with Lewis County to make this possible,” Weese added.

“This is something new to us, new to Lewis County and probably a lot of you didn’t even know about this nature preserve area, as I didn’t know three or four years ago, right here in our own county,” Ruckel said.

“We’re very fortunate to partner with the nature preserve, they’re great to work with,” he added. “It’s going to work out great.

“Hopefully this trail is not only going to be used for a healthy lifestyle for people in this community and the surrounding communities,” Ruckel said. “It may attract some tourism in, but it will also allow for educational opportunities.”

“I just think it’s going to be a win-win for everybody and we’re looking forward to working with the nature preserve in this,” he added.

State Representative Rocky Adkins told the gathering of about 40 he was honored to be in attendance for the dedication.

“This will attract, as a destination not only from the region but even farther out, for people to come here,” Adkins said.

“Zeb (Weese) and Joyce (Bender), I want you to know what a tremendous honor it’s been for me to have the opportunity to work with you over the years,” Adkins said.

“In my 30 years of serving in the House, the Kentucky State Nature Preserve has been at the forefront in our office of working with them to try to help in every way we can to preserve lands for what we’re doing here this morning,” he said.

“I think this is really neat that you’ve got a collaboration between the Kentucky State Nature Preserve and Lewis County,” Adkins stated.

“Judge (Ruckel), I want to thank you for having the vision of really having the cooperation and collaboration with an organization like this to benefit your county and the people you represent,” he said.

“Your fiscal court, who has shared in this with you, and your people that work for the county that understand how important this is, that will keep the parking lots mowed and anything else that needs to be maintained here, is really a special cooperation,” he said.

Adkins said when Bender started with the commission 30 years ago there were 16 preserves in Kentucky.

“Now, with this one, this makes 63 since she’s been there,” Adkins said to the applause of those in attendance.

“I think that it’s living proof that Todd, myself, and others that I work with in this community, we put people above politics and I thinks it’s really important that we continue to do that,” Adkins said.

“Let’s continue to do everything we can as we work to gather to make Lewis County and our region the best it can possibly be,” Adkins stated. “This is one of those positive things that help us attract the business and industry that we need to have here int he future.”

Ruckel said county road crews will assist with parking lot upkeep, routine mowing and trail maintenance.

The KSNPC will develop trail maps and educational materials, as well as manage habitat along the trail and surrounding nature preserve.

The trail highlights the glade and barrens habitat that KSNPC has conserved on the site since 1998. Visitors will be able to see a diverse number of grassland plants, including Indian paintbrush and blazing star, as well as the variety of butterflies and bees that pollinate these unique openings in the oak/hickory forest.

The woods surrounding the glades give birders opportunities to spot Kentucky warblers, wood thrush and ovenbirds.

In spring and fall, the preserve is managed with prescribed fire to maintain these open areas. The trails will be closed when burning occurs, but visitors will soon note how quickly the site greens up after a fire, according to information from KSNPC.

“Nature preserves serve two primary functions. One is to conserve Kentucky’s rare species and to provide places for citizens and tourists and two is to enjoy a peaceful hike in the woods,” said Zeb Weese, KSNPC Executive Director.

“Besides its ecological significance, Crooked Creek is less than 30 minutes from Maysville and Vanceburg, so it is an ideal location,” Weese added. “We are particularly indebted to citizens who continue to purchase “Nature’s Finest” license plates, which are used by the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund to conserve and manage this site.”

Crooked Creek Barrens State Nature Preserve was established when the original 60-acre tract was dedicated on June 15, 1999. Today, 728 acres make up this unique preserve.

The preserve features a unique oak barrens community and adjacent oak-hickory forest. Prairie species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum var. luciae-brauniae) occur in the barrens areas.

The site also protects five rare plant species: starry false Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum), white rattlesnake root (Prenanthes alba), slender blazing-star (Liatris cylindracea), earleaf foxglove (Agalinis auriculata) and scarlet Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea).

For more information on Kentucky State Nature Preserves go to http://naturepreserves.ky.gov, and for more information on the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund go to http://heritageland.ky.gov.

The Joyce Bender Hiking Trail will be open to visitors from sunrise to sunset.

Access to the trail is about nine miles north of Tollesboro at 1797 Chalk Ridge Road (Ky. Rt. 3309).

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