Eastern Kentucky University’s (EKU) Lilley Cornett Woods Appalachian Ecological Research Station in Letcher County, Kentucky was inducted into the Old-Growth Forest Network (OGFN) on June 13, 2023. Sarah Adloo, executive director of the Old-Growth Forest Network, conveyed the distinction to Curtis Cox, manager of Lilley Cornett Woods and Dr. Stephen Richter, director, Division of Natural Areas at Eastern Kentucky University.
The ceremony coincided with the 16th annual EKU Division of Natural Areas Field Camp held at the forest.
The Woods are on the ancestral lands of three Native American tribes: the Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee), Shawandassee Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee), and the S’atsoyaha (Yuchi).
The first old-growth forest remnant protected in Kentucky in 1969, Lilley Cornett Woods Appalachian Ecological Research Station, is a Registered National Natural Landmark. The total area of the station is 659 acres with the old-growth forest located centrally and totaling 252 acres. The oldest trees date to 1669 (white oak), and while never logged, it has been disturbed by livestock grazing the understory prior to 1969. The old-growth forest area is an excellent example of a mixed mesophytic forest with over 530 plant species, 72 of them being woody plant species, and diverse wildlife populations. Tree species include American beech, buckeye, tulip poplar, Eastern hemlock, red oak, white oak, chestnut oak, sugar maple, and basswood.
Lilley Cornett, the station’s namesake, acquired the property sometime after serving in World War II. Cornett preserved the woods from logging and wildfires thus protecting the “old trees.” After his death, the family sold the property to the state of Kentucky in 1969, which was transferred for management from the Kentucky Division of Forestry to Eastern Kentucky University’s Division of Natural Areas. Dr. William H. Martin, emeritus ecology professor at EKU, was integral to this transfer, having formed a relationship with the Kentucky Division of Forestry during his time conducting research at LCW in the early 1970s and expressing the interest EKU would have in the management of the site.
Richter noted, “We are the stewards of the forest because of the foresight of Dr. Martin, his establishment of research plots over 50 years ago, and the support of the EKU administration.” Richter also described the importance of the many other people who have cared for the land over this time. “Those that stand out to me are Robert Watts, who retired after 47 years of commitment to the Woods, Dr. Melinda Wilder, who became director of Natural Areas when Dr. Martin retired, and Curtis Cox, who is currently our manager and dedicated caretaker.”
Cox added, “Being the first old growth remnant protected in the state of Kentucky, Lilley Cornett Woods has had a huge impact on educating and creating a lifelong connection with those curious enough to venture into the woods.”
Cox also noted that LCW is now uniquely positioned with its induction into the OGFN to broaden the impacts it has for the region, including numerous ecological benefits, the chance for the public to experience the old growth with a professional guide, environmental education for K-12 schools, and opportunities for research.
The Old-Growth Forest Network connects people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, publicly accessible, native forests. OGFN intends to preserve at least one forest in every county in the U.S. that can sustain a forest. OGFN works to identify forests for the Network, ensure their protection from logging, and inform people of the forest locations.
Founded in 2012 by Dr. Joan Maloof, OGFN currently has over 210 forests in the Network across 36 states. Lilley Cornett Woods joins three other Kentucky forests already in the Network with several other additional old-growth forests under consideration in Kentucky. OGFN also recognizes exceptional forest advocates, educates about the extraordinary ecological benefits of old-growth forests, and speaks out regarding immediate threats to specific ancient forests. Learn more at http://www.oldgrowthforest.net.
Adloo said, “We could not grow the Network without our volunteer coordinators, who help us with forest identification and observations. Dr. Richter and his colleagues have been models of this relationship by making us aware of the forest’s qualities and its remarkable ecological composition.” Adloo added, “While we now have four forests in Kentucky in the national registry, we welcome additional volunteers to assist us in the 116 remaining counties.”
Interested volunteers are welcome to contact OGFN through the website: www.oldgrowthforest.net.
EKU's Division of Natural Areas protects, manages and maintains the university’s natural areas, as well as facilitates and promotes environmental education, outreach services and field research.