At a special ceremony last month, we announced the purchase of a 954-acre tract of land known as the Big Level, bringing our total acreage to 15,625. The acquisition is the largest since our founder, Isaac Wolfe Bernheim’s original 12,500-acre purchase in 1928. It allows Bernheim to protect even more critical wildlife habitat and continue I.W. Bernheim’s legacy of conservation.
The property has historically been called the Big Level because of the large plateau on its summit. It is situated on the north side of Kentucky Highway 245 just behind the Jim Beam Distillery. The land features large forest expanses, the headwaters of three creeks, and several small wetlands.
We partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Kentucky Field Office and used the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund to finance the purchase. This land is bordered to the east by Cave Hollow, a watershed where we have documented 12 of the 14 bat species found in Kentucky, including the Indiana bat, a federally endangered species, and the northern long-eared bat that is federally threatened.
The Simon family, owners of Publishers Printing, sold the property to Bernheim. The sale honors the late Frank and Elizabeth Simon who purchased the Big Level in 1988. It also honors their late son, Nick Simon’s wish for Bernheim to own and protect the land. Nick Simon served as a Bernheim Trustee from 1990 to 1997.
Nick Simon’s sister, Elizabeth Montgomery said it was an honor to fulfill her brother’s wishes. “Our family has long had a love of nature. With this purchase, Bernheim will preserve our heritage as land and nature conservationists.”
The Bernheim and Simon families have both left an unmatched legacy of conservation in Kentucky and this part of the country. Bernheim was already the largest privately held contiguous forest dedicated to conservation and education in the eastern United States and thanks to the Simon Family and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we are protecting even more land. Historic purchaes like this are possible thanks to great conservation partnerships, like the one we have with Kentucky Natural Lands Trust and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service-Kentucky Field Office. Tom Block, President of the Bernheim Board of Trustees and I.W. Bernheim’s great grandson, also called it serendipitous that both families, the Simons and the Bernheims, emigrated from Germany and settled here in Kentucky – I.W. 150 years ago and the Simon family 17 years prior. “We couldn’t think of a better way to honor the anniversary of I.W. Bernheim’s arrival than with the purchase of the Big Level,” said Block.
We want to thank our Board of Trustees for their leadership in protecting wildlife corridors and their vision to become a nationally treasured leader in ecological stewardship. The additional protected land has a great positive impact, not just for the environment, but also on the region’s economy, especially along the Bourbon Trail and the 270,000 people who visit Bernheim each year.
Kevin Smith, VP of Kentucky Beam Bourbon Affairs at Beam Suntory, added that it’s important to preserve the Bourbon Trail’s picturesque beauty, and protect the natural water source for Jim Beam®, the world’s number-one bourbon. “At Beam Suntory, we’re deeply committed to protecting the natural water sources for our products, preserving our precious environment and supporting the communities where our people live and work,” he said. “We’re thrilled with Bernheim’s work to conserve this land, which is vital to our region’s economy. We’re proud to have them as neighbors and we look forward to an expanded partnership with them to promote the environmental priorities we all share.”
The acquisition of the land is only the beginning of the long-term conservation work we will carry out. Stewardship work on this property will adhere to the same high standards we carry out every day at Bernheim and will include the removal of invasive plant species, wetland and stream improvements, and enhancements for bat habitat
Public access to the land will be limited to nature-based education programs and researchers. Special tours may also be added later this year.