Art Lander’s Outdoors: Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest — the legacy of a German immigrant

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Isaac Wolfe Bernheim immigrated to the U.S. from Germany when he was 17 years old. When he reached New York, he had $4 in his pocket.

But like many hard working German immigrants in the 19th century, he thrived in America’s land of opportunity, adopted its values and way of life, and prospered financially.

At first he traveled on horseback, peddling household goods and hardware to German immigrants in Pennsylvania.

He later moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked as a bookkeeper, then started a wholesale whiskey business in 1872, operated in partnership with this brother, Bernard.

By 1888, Bernheim had incorporated Bernheim Distillers in Louisville, helping to establish the city as a major center of Kentucky bourbon distilling. He sold his business after Prohibition, and died in 1945, at the age of 96.

The 35 miles of day-hiking trails that loop around the knobs and through the valleys of the forest preserve, rated easy to difficult. The Millennium Trail is the longest, a difficult 13.75-mile hike that takes six to seven hours to complete. (Photo Provided)

Bernheim was a man of vision, as time would tell.

Despite his considerable footprint on Kentucky’s rich history of bourbon as the creator of the iconic I.W. Harper brand of whiskey, Benheim’s legacy would be the gift of wild lands set aside so that city dwellers could learn about nature.

He grew up near Germany’s famous Black Forest, and had a deep love of nature, so in 1929, Bernheim purchased 12,500 acres of logged and eroded woodlands in Bullitt County, and set up a foundation to nurture, protect and develop the acreage for future visitor use. The cut over land he originally purchased for $1 an acre is now clothed in vast stands of mature hardwood trees.

Today, Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest encompasses 15,625 acres, with the recent addition of a 954-acre tract of land known as the Big Level.

Ongoing research projects include water quality monitoring, and golden eagle seasonal migrations. Three active management programs are tree plantings, the removal of invasive, non-native plants, and utilizing fire as a tool in fire/disturbance dependent habitats such as grasslands and upland oak-hickory forests.

Hours of Operation/Fees

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is one of the most accessible nature and scenic areas in Kentucky, just a few minutes drive south of Louisville, off Interstate 65, and strategically located along Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail.

The cut over land Isaac W. Bernheim originally purchased for $1 an acre in 1929 is now clothed in vast stands of mature hardwood trees.

Bernheim was opened to the public in 1951, and annually there are more than 200,000 visitors. Open primarily for day use, there are some evening programs. Hours of operation vary throughout the year. Through May 31, the forest is open to visitors 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Monday through Friday there’s no charge for visitors. On weekends and holidays, a fee of $5 is charged per passenger car, minivan or motorcycle, and $10 for larger vehicles. Call ahead for fees charged for tour buses and other large groups.

Annual memberships, which include free entry on weekends and holidays are available, starting at $50 a household.

Activities and Facilities

There’s a lot to do and see at Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest.

For more outdoors news and information, see Art Lander’s Outdoors on KyForward.

For starters, there’s over 35 miles of day-hiking trails that loop around the knobs and through the valleys of the forest preserve, rated easy to difficult. The Millennium Trail is the longest, a difficult 13.75-mile hike that takes six to seven hours to complete.

Take a scenic drive through the forest on paved roads, or bicycle around the Arboretum, a living library of trees.

Each month there are special events for visitors. This includes nature hikes, workshops, plant and animal study programs for children and adults, and gardening and landscaping tours in the Arboretum.

Enjoy a snack or light meal — salads, soups, sandwiches, children’s meals and desserts — at Isaac’s Cafe, open daily 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Visitor’s Center has a gift shop which showcases works by local and regional artisans.

The Education Center includes an art gallery, exhibits, a wildlife viewing room and wetland called the Kingfisher Pool.

If You Go

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is located 20 minutes south of Louisville. Take exit 112 from Interstate 65, and drive east for about one mile on Ky-245, then turn right into the entrance.

Their mailing address is: Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, P.O. Box 130, Clermont, KY 40110, telephone (502) 955-8512, and e-mail nature@bernheim.org. Visit their website at: https://bernheim.org.

1Art Lander Jr.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

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