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FLOYDS FORK FALL HIKE BY BOB HILL

| Bob Hill

Our Floyds Fork moments of truth included a blue plastic milk crate and a box turtle. The plastic crate sat alone on the leafy woodland trail as if wanting to be discovered – but leaving unanswered the questions of how and why it had gotten there in the first place. The box turtle had nothing to explain.

We had found both on a beautiful sunny morning in November in the early stages of a walk along Turkey Run, a narrow, meandering stream that drains hundreds of acres of wooded hills above Floyds Fork.

The walk was one of a series planned by 21st Century Parks to better acquaint us with the Floyds Fork project. It was advertised as a walk through “Turkey Run Gorge” – a description that at first reading might evoke promises of natural grandeur beyond what it could provide.

And yet, the first words from the mouth of one of the trek’s participants as we gathered near an antique stone house on land once granted to Squire Boone – Daniel’s Boone brother – were “Are we in Louisville? I can’t believe it.”

Our tour guide was naturalist Michael Gaige, who had but one word for our suggested manner of walking up the wooded slopes if we were to see all that Turkey Run promised in the three hours of allotted time: “Efficiently.”

There were about 15 of us; men, women and children. We followed Gaige single file into bottom land rutted with ATV trails, snaking, scrambling and sloshing across the flat rocks and gurgling waters of Turkey Run.

We quick-stepped across the resilient stream two more times as we gradually pushed uphill past patches of native ginger and pachysandra, finally reaching higher ground where our damp shoes swished through the fallen leaves.

The fall woods – the naked limbs of the oak, maple, ash and hickory – were bathed in strong light. In time these woods – the formal trail built within them – will become a major connecting point between the park’s greenway and trail corridors. For now it was just ours to enjoy.

A cool gust of wind rose to greet us as Gaige stopped to give our walk more of that broader meaning. He held up a fossilized rock someone had found in the leaves, pointed out the cephalopods and brachiopods, warm-water sea creatures that had lived here about 400 million years before we set foot in the place.

“That was even before fish,” Gaige said.

He paused to judge our continued enthusiasm and then led the party up a steep slope where he promised a waterfall would greet us. We struggled upward, sliding in the leaves, grabbing on to small trees to pull ourselves along, finally reaching a point where we could see water spilling over a wrinkled limestone ledge.

Our walking efficiently had taken a brief holiday, but the waterfall and the long view of Turkey Run below as it curved in a dark eyebrow against the far hillside, made the venture worthwhile.

Gaige said there are six such waterfall tributaries that feed Turkey Run, with about 25 to 30 waterfalls to be found in the full length of the proposed park, the best of them at its southern end.

“The biggest,” he said, priming our pumps for future exploration, “is four times bigger than this one.”

We slid back down the hill, took full botanical measure of the loose-plated bark of a big shagbark hickory and historical measure of a grove of cedar trees that had sprung up along a ridge; the land had once been clear cut to provide the open space cedars require.

We paused to rest about a half-mile into the woods where the blue plastic milk crate and the box turtle were found about 10 feet apart. The milk crate wasn’t a total surprise; the land had only been recently purchased for a park; local residents had driven on it and hunted it for decades before that; milk crates make handy carriers.

Yet its presence was annoying; a blot on our day. This was a plastic milk crate loose in the woods, the words “FOR DAIRY USE ONLY” and “RETURN PROMPTLY” clearly visible on its sides, if not intruding on our ramped-up arboreal psyches and visions of the future.

The box turtle had its markings, too. Its red eyes and the “divot” in the bottom of the shell indicated it was a male. One of the kids on the walk with us counted the marks on its shell that suggested it was about 22 years old – although naturalists argue over the accuracy keeping turtle score that way. The turtle didn’t seem to care either way.

Our Turkey Run walk didn’t stop there. We went on through the woods to a long and somewhat mysterious stone wall that had been built from rocks hauled uphill from the adjoining creek bed; the unanswered questions here exactly who did it and why?

We stood somewhat transfixed beneath a massive chinkapin oak, a “wolf” tree dating to the 1700s, its giant bare limbs spread out above us in mothering benediction. Not far from the tree were the remains of an Amish cedar sawmill. Just over the hill from that was stark evidence of abandoned golf courses whose plans included blacktop roads and executive homes on the woodland path we had just taken.

We took it all in – what could have been and what will be – and reluctantly headed back down the trail a much more closely knit group than when we had started. I kept thinking about that annoying plastic crate. My mission became to pick it up and haul it out – but someone else in our party beat me to it. The box turtle is still up there.

- Bob Hill

About the Author

Picture of Bob Hill

Bob Hill

Former Louisville-Courier columnist Bob Hill is a historian for The Parklands of Floyds Fork. He travels Floyds Fork writing of the people, the places and the history of the stream within the 20-mile park system - all of which is to be preserved in the Filson Historical Society. Some of Hill's stories appear in A Landscape and its Legacy, the commemorative book for The Parklands of Floyds Fork project. Hill has also compiled a Floyds Fork “Places & Faces” presentation that adds imagery to the words.

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