In an action designed to help conserve a bat population facing depletion by disease and lost habitat, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest has annexed a 954-acre wooded plateau for $1.4 million.
Officials of the nonprofit Isaac Bernheim Foundation, which owns and operates the forested education and conservation center 20 minutes south of Louisville, announced Tuesday that they closed a month ago on the land. It was previously owned by the Simon family that owns Publishers Printing Co. based in Bullitt County.
The addition is Bernheim’s largest since founder Isaac Wolfe Bernheim’s original 12,500-acre purchase in 1928, Bernheim Executive Director Mark Wourms said. The new land — mostly a mesa called the Big Level — brings the Bernheim holdings near Clermont to 15,625 acres.
The expansion allows Bernheim to protect additional critical wildlife habitat and continue the conservation legacy of I.W. Bernheim, a German immigrant who made a fortune in the whiskey business, Bernheim officials said.
The Big Level is on the north side of Ky. 245, just beyond Bernheim’s front door and right behind the Jim Beam Distillery’s Clermont site. The new land is about 90 percent forested and contains the headwaters of three creeks that feed into the Salt River along with some wetlands.
Grant money for the purchase came from the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and held by the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust. The fund is fed primarily by developers who pay a fee to build on property where bats concentrate.
Bernheim forest manager Andrew Berry said that $140,000 has been set aside for stewardship work at the site. Wourms said Bernheim’s staff plans to remove some invasive plant life and take measures to preserve the wetlands areas.
Later, a few controlled activities are planned, perhaps some guided hikes and educational programs. The land probably won’t be open to the general public, but to researchers.
A large cave where bats congregate is in an area called Cave Hollow close to the newly acquired site. Bernheim’s staff has documented a dozen bat species at the Big Level, including the Indiana bat that is a federally endangered species and the northern long-eared bat that is threatened.
Berry said bats are critical to the ecosystem, feeding on moths and other insects that can ravage crops. The expanded forest will provide tree roosting quarters and a place for bats to raise offspring in a protected environment.
The Simons purchased the Big Level in 1988. The recent sale was intended by the family to honor Nick Simon, a longtime Bernheim trustee who died last year.
His sister, Elizabeth Montgomery, said in a release that “our family has long had a love of nature. With this purchase, Bernheim will preserve our heritage as land and nature conservationists.”
Bernheim was already the largest privately held, contiguous forest dedicated to conservation and education in the eastern United States.
Tom Block, Bernheim trustee president, noted that March 18 marked the 150th anniversary of when I.W. Bernheim arrived in America, with $4 in his pocket, according to legend.
Reporter Sheldon S. Shafer can be reached at 502-582-7089, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.