Jim Beam Nature Preserve is simple, beautiful

Published 12:16 pm Friday, October 28, 2016

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im Beam Nature Preserve in southern Jessamine County is a simple, beautiful place to visit.

The preserve is 115 acres of pristine forests along the Kentucky River Palisades protected by The Nature Conservancy. True to the “preserve” part of its name, the vast majority of the land is not for use by humans.

Getting to the preserve entrance feels a little like discovering a secret.

It’s only a couple minutes from U.S. 27 at the county line between Jessamine and Garrard counties. After turning off into a residential area, you pull down Payne Lane, a narrow road used by local residents to access their driveways. The road turns to gravel and runs along a fence line as you approach the preserve, marked simply with a plain “Beam Preserve” metal sign.

A small parking lot and information shelter greet you once you arrive. The area of the preserve accessible for visitors is limited to a single loop trail that runs around three quarters of a mile. A picnic area is located near the trailhead, making it possible to lunch and hike.

The trail is great for birding. It runs near the high cliff faces of the Kentucky River, making it possible to spot vultures and birds of prey. Many interesting birds populate the region that you won’t necessarily see at the bird feeder outside your kitchen window. On my most recent visit to the preserve, I got to watch a pileated woodpecker investigating a dead tree before spreading its impressive wings and swooping through the woods. I also saw several other woodpeckers, including downy and hairy ones.

Hidden in the woods along the trail is a long stone fence that serves as proof the land once had other uses.

The loop trail includes a branch to “Lookout Point,” a rock face seemingly designed for sitting on, high at the top of a heavily-wooded cliff area. If you bring binoculars with you, you’ll be able to look out to the palisades along the Kentucky River, up to the tops of the towering trees and down to a valley beneath Lookout Point. Late autumn and winter may be the best times to visit if you want to see wildlife since the leaves won’t be in your way.

There’s nothing flashy about Jim Beam Nature Preserve. It’s a simple, straightforward hiking trail that’s best for slow walks when you just want to get outside and feel immersed in nature.

If you pack a picnic lunch and spend a good amount of time, as I like to do, sitting quietly at Lookout Point and waiting to see what wildlife happens by, you can use up most of a short winter afternoon. It can be enjoyed in an hour or less if you need a breather from civilization but are crunched for time. You can also make it one stop along a tour of the palisades area by visiting Tom Dorman State Nature Preserve on the Garrard County side of the Kentucky River and Camp Nelson Civil War Heritage Park a little ways north on U.S. 27.

Road Trip Facts

— Jim Beam Nature Preserve is located at the end of Payne Lane in southern Jessamine County, off of Hall Road, which is accessible from U.S. 27.

— According to The Nature Conservancy, “The palisades region harbors the largest concentration of rare plant species with the Bluegrass Region … (and) is home to at least 25 mammal species and 35 reptile species,” including two species of bats.

— The preserve is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. Hiking, photography and bird-watching are all recommended activities. Camping, biking, horses and off-road vehicles are prohibited.