Wildlife refuge is hidden gem

Published 12:16 pm Monday, September 19, 2016

By Ben Kleppinger, Contributing Columnist

Hidden down the rural back roads of Boyle County is one of my favorite natural spaces in all of Kentucky: the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge.

It’s name is something of a misnomer. Unlike the many wildlife refuges that rehabilitate injured animals, the 500-acre CKWR is a refuge in more of the literal sense: It’s a protected space where plants, animals and birds are allowed to simply exist with zero to minimal interaction from humans.

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More than six miles of well-marked paths take hikers past multiple ponds that attract waterfowl, frogs and turtles; through idyllic wooded areas filled with deer and birds; and along a high-elevation ridge in the heart of Kentucky wilderness. The paths include multiple bridges and benches.

Maps for the trails are available at the entrance parking lot. Many of the trails are mostly flat and easy to walk — kids as young as four years old can enjoy the trails near the entrance. It can get more difficult if you decide to walk along Ridge Trail, which has the highest elevation at CKWR.

CKWR has a bird blind less than a minute walk from the parking lot and an education center about two minutes down the main path that helps kids learn about the wild flora and fauna that’s being protected. Near the education center is a gazebo and Island Pond, a large pond that often attracts a lot of wildlife. Island Pond is easy to get to quickly from the parking lot.

The best thing about CKWR is its serenity. It’s about a 15-minute drive from Danville, so it’s not an extremely distant place to visit. But just five minutes into a walk, you’ll be all but removed from civilization. Walk for 10 or 15 minutes and you can feel the natural peace and calm that comes with remoteness begin to affect your mindset.

There’s nothing I’ve found that’s better for my mental health than spending time in nature without a screen in front of my face and without the noise of traffic and busy people. At CKWR, you can spend hours without hearing anything but the birds and crickets.

There’s no cell service, which actually helps ensure that the time you spend there is serene. I recommend hiking a decent way into the refuge, finding a bench and just sitting for 15 or 20 minutes, listening and letting your regular worries wash away.

Visiting CKWR in the morning is a good plan if you hope to see plenty of birds at the bird blind. Arriving early also allows more hiking before temps rise too much in the summer, but as winter approaches, it will be nicer to take advantage of the midday heat.

Bring a camera or binoculars as you will almost definitely see some wildlife during a hike of decent length. It’s a good idea to wear closed-toe shoes and tuck your pants into your socks to ward off chiggers and ticks.

Road Trip Facts

— The Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge is open year-round from dawn to dusk.

— CKWR is located on Carpenter Creek Road in western Boyle County. It’s most easily accessed off of Ky. 37.

— The education center is open on specified dates as announced on the CKWR Facebook page.

— The website is www.ckwr.org.