When the Henderson County Tourist Commission recently released a video touting the area's assets people were impressed. But they went a little .... well, wild ... over one segment in particular.
What caused a stir on social media were scenes of a brand new, still unopened boardwalk sandwiched between Audubon State Park and the Ohio River in a lush wetlands area.
What was this cool attraction? How can you get out and experience it first-hand?
Well, folks, you are about to get your shot.
"A Walk in the Wetlands" preview day and open house will be from 8 a.m. to noon Sept. 24., appropriately enough, the same day as National Public Lands Day.
When the deed finalizing the sale of the 649-acre wetlands was recorded, it was the end of the long quest.
In 2011, the Oliver estate put the land up for auction, but the state of Kentucky didn't have the funding to bid on it. Six local residents -- Robbie Williams, Scott Keach, Houston Keach, Will Esche, Tom Dempewolf and Tommy Dempewolf -- bought the wetlands paying $1.75 million with the goal of securing the area for Audubon Park.
The group of men transferred the wetlands property to the Southern Conservation Corp., and the acreage was then purchased with money from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund.
“This really has taken a long time; I’ve been working on it for 20 years, and we had really given up on it, at least I had, ” Scott Keach said this past spring.
Since that time, officials have been working to make the site accessible to the public. That work is far from completed. There's hopes for an official opening in the spring of 2017. But park staff and others want to go ahead and give those interested a chance to take a look and a stroll.
"It's absolutely gorgeous over there when you go out on the boardwalk," said Allen Mayo, Audubon State Park trail maintenance supervisor and volunteer coordinator.
He noted the area is starting to come together.
"The boardwalk's been installed; there's the existing vegetation, birds and animals, the beginnings of the trail system."
But many things still need to be completed. Right now, there are no trail or interpretative signs; the roughed-out trails need to be groomed; there are still bridge and boardwalk areas that need to be completed, and there are also plans for an outdoor classroom facility.
There also isn't a formal parking area or entrance either. The site can't be opened up to the public on a regular basis yet, Mayo said, because "we don't want anybody to get lost or injured."
Mark Kellen, manager at Audubon State Park, said the signage can be taken care of at the state sign shop in Frankfort. The parking and entrance area, he added, will likely be completed with help from the county. But complicating it all, he said, are rules and regulatory requirements that come along with the funding sources.
Still, the Sept. 24 preview day will let folks get a good look at what's to come. And during the preview day, in keeping with the National Public Lands Day theme, visitors will be invited to help clean up the area in and around the wetlands. Despite the location's natural beauty, Kellen noted that fresh trash is deposited every time the Ohio River rises. There's also litter from Kentucky 414, which runs along the wetlands area and leads to the city's construction landfill and trash transfer station.
The addition of the wetlands area has been a boon for Audubon State Park in terms of size as well as beauty and natural diversity.
Audubon Park had been made up of about 700 acres. The new wetlands addition is about 650 acres, Mayo said, "so you are literally talking about doubling the size of the park."
Kellen, who is a member of the local tourist commission, said it's hard to fully describe what is being added to the park with the wetlands area.
"It's a totally different environment," he said. "The bird species that you'll be able to see are going to be so incredible .... wood ducks, geese, any of the birds that migrate ... herons and hummingbirds and butterflies. There's all kind of things you'll be able to see that will be totally different than what you would see in the main park now."
The wetlands area is home to three separate bald eagle nests, one of which is currently in use by an eagle family group. There's also a great blue heron rookery and -- given the wetlands location along the Mississippi Flyway -- there are too many migratory birds to list that stop in each year on their way.
All this fits perfectly with the legacy of the park's namesake, famed naturalist and artist John James Audubon. The Audubon Museum is "the world's largest collection of Audubon art and artifacts on display." Kellen said. "Couple that with the ability to experience so many different bird species, and it's an end-all, be-all for birders. It really puts Henderson on the map."
Kellen pointed out that one of the park's biggest missions is education and that will only grow with this addition. On a daily basis, the area will be open to the public as a self-guided attraction. But there will be structured programs as well for groups and schoolkids.
"This really expands on what we can do from a natural science aspect," he said.
Check out this story on thegleaner.com: http://www.thegleaner.com/story/news/2016/09/04/walk-wetlands-show-off-boardwalk-more-sept-24/89586878/