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A (not so) Small Milestone Atop a Big Hill

Fire TowerTwo years ago, soon after signing on to be a volunteer at Bernheim, I requested to serve as a regular guide at the Bernheim Fire Tower.  I had several reasons for the request.  One was that it sounded like fun (it is).  Another was I believed that, if the tower was open on a regular basis, it could become more of a deliberate destination for our visitors.

That too has proven to be true.  In the time that I have been a fire tower guide, the number of visitors has steadily risen.  I was pleased when on the 3rd of April, I welcomed the ten-thousandth visitor to join me in this lookout above our magnificent forest. To honor this occasion, I presented the family of my ten-thousandth  visitor with a  Bernheim gift certificate. I learned that they celebrated their award with a round of Graeter’s ice cream from Isaac’s Cafe and lots of smiles!

While this was a fun milestone to mark, it is really rather unimportant (editor’s note – we don’t think it’s unimportant. Visitors having the opportunity to visit this magnificent destination is an important way for them to connect with nature).  What is important is that I am allowed to play a small part in in welcoming our visitors and in assisting them as they deepen their appreciation of nature.  We all gain when we are able to share Isaac Bernheim’s gift with Kentucky and the world.

I have had the pleasure to meet many great visitors from all over this country as well as a considerable number of international guests.  Among these visitors werefrom countries such as Nepal, India, China, Indonesia, Finland, Bulgaria, Germany, Iraq, Pakistan, Kenya, Columbia, and many other nations.  I have been moved by being joined by two blind visitors who were able to share the view with the assistance of myself and their companions, by two people who made it up the stairs while using crutches, by a woman who made the climb a few months after a heart transplant, and by a young man with multiple physical challenges who crawled up and down the stairs with the help of his family.  I was extremely pleased to get to meet a wonderful woman who had made her first visit to the fire tower at the age of seven – in 1946.  She returned last year, seventy years later, and shared the view with me as well as her stories of the forest as she remembered it, four years before it was open to the public.

So, ten thousand visitors may be a small milestone but the only number that counts is one.  You.  I hope you are able to visit Bernheim often and enjoy the many attractions of this fantastic place.  Please know that when you visit, you will never be treated as a number by myself, or any of our other volunteers or staff.  You will be appreciated and welcomed, whether it is your first visit or the most recent of many.

-Ken Johnson, Volunteer Naturalist