Kentucky

Our Kentucky

Campaign Impact Report

Aerial view of the Big South Fork River in Kentucky with dense forests along its banks.
Big South Fork River A 460-acre tract of land recently transferred from the Kentucky Chapter to the Big South Fork River and Recreational Area © Ben Childers
Man smiling with a plaid shirt, eyeglasses and a cap.
David Phemister Kentucky State Director © Mike Wilkinson

A Big Win For Conservation

Dear Friends,

After five years, we closed the Our Kentucky campaign on June 30, 2021. It was, without question, an unqualified success on both the conservation and philanthropy fronts. $32.23 million raised against a $24 million goal. The largest conservation project (Cumberland Forest), the largest stream restoration (Green River dam removals), the largest ...

Dear Friends,

After five years, we closed the Our Kentucky campaign on June 30, 2021. It was, without question, an unqualified success on both the conservation and philanthropy fronts. $32.23 million raised against a $24 million goal. The largest conservation project (Cumberland Forest), the largest stream restoration (Green River dam removals), the largest wetland restoration (west Kentucky floodplains), and the largest urban science experiment (Green Heart) in our and the state’s history—just to name some of the accomplishments. 

After securing a gift that took us over the finish line on our cash goal, I called my parents (also donors) to share the news. My mom asked me how I felt, and I said more than anything, I felt humbled and grateful. Yes, some pride and relief mixed in, but the word that came most strongly to mind was “thanks.” When you step off the proverbial cliff at the start of a campaign, it is ultimately the donors who decide whether you fall or soar. All of you made us soar, and, on behalf of all our staff, I am truly grateful. In different ways to be sure, but undoubtedly so too are the ruffed grouse, elk, whippoorwills, white oaks, coneflowers, dragonflies, slippershell mussels, waterfalls, forests, floodplains, and other plants, animals, and places that have a healthier and more secure future thanks to your investments. 

As our supporters heard us say throughout, this campaign was about both seizing the opportunities in front of us right now and building the strength, capacity, and resources to continue our work well into the future. Here too, I believe we have been very successful, and not simply because we have raised funds for our present work and secured bequest commitments for future growth. We have also invested in the completion of longstanding efforts like dam removal on the Green River while strategically growing our staff to develop new work and secure new wins in the Appalachians, on agriculture, and in the policy realm. As such, the formal end of this campaign is not so much a conclusion as it is a beginning, and we are excited to use the momentum your generosity generated to set our sights even higher in the coming years. With you, we will celebrate our successes, but our eyes are on the future.

Once again, I am humbled and grateful. Thank you. 

David Phemister
Kentucky State Director

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Our Kentucky Campaign

  • Icon of a home

    $24M

    Goal: Private Philanthropy for Kentucky

  • Icon of Money

    $32M

    Raised: Private Philanthropy for Kentucky

  • Icon of a globe

    $20M

    Gifts/Pledges

  • Icon of present in gift wrap

    $12M

    Planned Gift Commitments

Global Priorities and Public Funding Leveraged

  • Icon of government building

    $10.4M

    Goal: Public Funding

  • Icon of Money

    $45M+

    Raised: Public Funding

  • Icon of a globe

    $1M

    Goal: Global Priorities

  • Icon a a wrapped gift

    $2.66M

    Raised: Global Priorities

Mountains with dense forest.
Kentucky The eastern Kentucky mountains are part of the Central Appalachians, a critical corridor for wildlife migration in the face of a changing climate. © Mike Wilkinson
Sun shines through a tree line.
MIFO160904_D292.tif McMahon Lake Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media
Forested mountains with clouds flowing through it.
Cumberland Forest A mountain view of the Ataya tract and Cumberland Mountains from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Tennessee. © Byron Jorjorian
Stream flowing through rocks.
Tackett Creek Tackett Creek, a stream with large stones and reflections, located on the Ataya Tract of the Cumberland Forest Project in Tennessee © Byron Jorjorian
Forested mountains with clouds flowing through it.
Cumberland Forest Mist rises above ridges at the Ataya tract. © Byron Jorjorian
The fiery tip of a prescribed fire ignitor.
Kentucky Fire Management A member of a TNC/USFS fire crew holds a drip torch during a controlled burn at the Eastview Barrens Nature Preserve in Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson
Sun shines through a tree line.
MIFO160904_D292.tif McMahon Lake Preserve © Jason Whalen/Big Foot Media

A New Economy

In the mountains of eastern Kentucky, a transformation is underway. This region has long depended on an extractive economy, but with the decline of the coal industry, finding new and more sustainable opportunities is increasingly critical to those who call these mountains home. The Nature Conservancy and its 253,000-acre Cumberland Forest Project are part of this transformation, from opening the region to new investments in carbon markets, to promoting sustainable forestry, to enhancing the outdoor recreation economy.

Forested mountains with clouds flowing through it.
Cumberland Forest A mountain view of the Ataya tract and Cumberland Mountains from Cumberland Gap National Historic Park in Tennessee. © Byron Jorjorian

A Critical Corridor

As the climate changes, animals and plants will need to adapt to survive. We can help by ensuring they have a resilient and connected pathway to more suitable habitats. The Central Appalachians, which run through eastern Kentucky, are a continentally important migratory corridor for wildlife, from migratory birds to salamanders. TNC has plans to protect much more than the Cumberland Forest Project.

Stream flowing through rocks.
Tackett Creek Tackett Creek, a stream with large stones and reflections, located on the Ataya Tract of the Cumberland Forest Project in Tennessee © Byron Jorjorian

Working in cooperation with other state programs from Alabama to Maine, as well as Conservancy leaders throughout the organization, we have plans to protect hundreds of thousands of forested acres and store millions of tons of carbon across the Appalachians in the coming years. Transformative philanthropy, innovative impact investments, and new public funding opportunities through the Great American Outdoors Act make these ambitious plans possible, and we are excited for what lies ahead.

Forested mountains with clouds flowing through it.
Cumberland Forest Mist rises above ridges at the Ataya tract. © Byron Jorjorian

Protecting Land

When Our Kentucky campaign began five years ago, we set our sights high for land protection, with a goal of 15,000 acres over the course of the campaign. We are proud to say that we far exceeded that goal. On the 55,000 acres of the Cumberland Forest Project that touch down in Kentucky, we are working hard to show that nature and people can thrive together. In the Green River region, we acquired the largest conservation easement in chapter history, later buying the property outright, to protect 400,000 federally endangered Indiana and gray bats

The fiery tip of a prescribed fire ignitor.
Kentucky Fire Management A member of a TNC/USFS fire crew holds a drip torch during a controlled burn at the Eastview Barrens Nature Preserve in Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson

The Power of Prescribed Fire

It isn’t enough to simply protect land, however. Lands often need management for health and resilience. The transformative power of prescribed fire supports biodiversity, improves forest health, and lowers the risk of catastrophic wildfire. Working with our partners, we have implemented prescribed fire across nearly 52,000 acres during the campaign, a huge increase over previous years.

By the Numbers

  • Conservation lands

    57,171

    acres of land protected

  • Easements

    5.1M

    tons of carbon estimated sequestered in Cumberland Forest

  • prescribed fire

    51,945

    acres of prescribed burns

River with a dam and forest on both sides.
Kentucky River Green River Lock and Dam #5 © Mike Wilkinson
River with a dam and forested on both sides.
Kentucky River Green River Lock and Dam #5 © Mike Wilkinson
Construction equipment at work dismantling a dam.
Dam Removal A U.S. Fish and Wildlife dam removal crew hammers away at the lock chamber of Green River Lock and Dam #5. © Mike Wilkinson
Construction equipment at work in a construction zone.
Dam Removal The dam removal team finishes demolishing the lock chamber at Green River Lock and Dam #5. © TNC
Green and undeveloped wetland from an aerial view.
West Kentucky wetland A wetland area in western Kentucky © Mike Wilkinson
Green, open landscape with a forest in the background.
Wetland restoration Trees have been planted to restore a western Kentucky wetland. © Mike Wilkinson
Two men wade into water with nets and equipment.
Fish Sampling Researchers with the western Kentucky wetland monitoring project sample fish. © TNC
River with a dam and forested on both sides.
Kentucky River Green River Lock and Dam #5 © Mike Wilkinson

Freeing the Green River

The Green River is one of North America’s most biodiverse, with an abundance of rare and endemic (found nowhere else) species of fish and mussels and a host of other wildlife. We lost some of the Green’s health, connectivity, and richness over 100 years ago when a series of locks and dams were constructed for commercial navigation. Last operated in 1951, these dams remained in the river, diminishing habitat, limiting fish passage, and posing dangerous obstacles to recreation.

Construction equipment at work dismantling a dam.
Dam Removal A U.S. Fish and Wildlife dam removal crew hammers away at the lock chamber of Green River Lock and Dam #5. © Mike Wilkinson

Our Kentucky campaign set out to remove three of these defunct locks and dams, and The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other partners are well on our way to completing this goal. After TNC shepherded enabling legislation through Congress in 2016, the partnership removed Lock and Dam #6 in 2017.

Construction equipment at work in a construction zone.
Dam Removal The dam removal team finishes demolishing the lock chamber at Green River Lock and Dam #5. © TNC

Since then, we have been hard at work on Lock and Dam #5 and are removing it as this report is being written. Lock and Dam #5 is the largest dam removal in Kentucky history, and, coupled with #6, restores nearly 200 miles of free-flowing Green River once again.

Green and undeveloped wetland from an aerial view.
West Kentucky wetland A wetland area in western Kentucky © Mike Wilkinson

Restoring Floodplains

Our restoration story continues in west Kentucky. Here the challenge is finding the appropriate balance between agricultural production, healthy wetlands, and an intact floodplain, a challenge made more difficult by a changing climate and larger and longer floods. The Nature Conservancy and our partners at the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service are restoring frequently flooded farmlands back to forested wetlands, a win for farmers, wildlife, water quality, and decreased flood risk downstream.

Green, open landscape with a forest in the background.
Wetland restoration Trees have been planted to restore a western Kentucky wetland. © Mike Wilkinson

Our Kentucky campaign sought to restore up to 10,000 acres of Mississippi River floodplains as part of the largest wetland restoration project in state history. Working alongside our partners, we exceeded our goal, protecting and restoring over 9,000 acres in Kentucky and playing a leading role in enrolling thousands of additional acres in neighboring Illinois and Tennessee.

Two men wade into water with nets and equipment.
Fish Sampling Researchers with the western Kentucky wetland monitoring project sample fish. © TNC

As this restoration continues, we are quantifying the results with a 5-year, $4.36 million scientific study that will provide data to better direct and scale future efforts across the Mississippi River basin. With your support, we hired a new Director of Agriculture (shared with Tennessee) to engage more deeply with farmers and the agriculture supply chain, with a goal of achieving dramatically increased adoption of soil health practices that will protect water quality in the Mississippi River and other local streams and rivers.

By the Numbers

  • wetland

    12,800

    wetland acres protected

  • trees

    1.4M

    trees planted

  • river

    197mi.

    of Green River restored to free-flowing conditions

Couple walking through neighborhood.
Kentucky A couple walks down a south Louisville street. © Mike Wilkinson
A tree being actively planted with worker's boot.
Tree planting Large trees are planted along a busy highway in Louisville to create a barrier to air pollution going into the Green Heart community. © Mike Wilkinson
A worker squatting next to an unplanted tree.
Tree planting A tree is bundled in burlap in preparation for going to the Green Heart study area. © Mike Wilkinson
Worker actively planting a tree and sun light shining.
Tree planting Large trees are planted along a busy highway in Louisville to create a barrier to air pollution going into the Green Heart community. © Mike Wilkinson
Young girl among wildflowers reading a brochure.
Girl with wildflowers A young girl views wildflowers at Brown and Crutcher nature preserves in Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson
Series of trees recently planted with support poles.
Mill Creek New trees have been planted in the Mill Creek watershed. © Catherine Fitzgerald
A tree being actively planted with worker's boot.
Tree planting Large trees are planted along a busy highway in Louisville to create a barrier to air pollution going into the Green Heart community. © Mike Wilkinson

A City with Challenges

Cities face numerous challenges as the climate changes and more people move to urban areas. From air quality to stormwater runoff to the urban heat island effect, cities are looking for solutions to some of the most critical problems facing their residents. Louisville, located in the Ohio River Valley with its accompanying air quality and cardiovascular health challenges, is the perfect urban laboratory to test how nature may improve the health of people.

A worker squatting next to an unplanted tree.
Tree planting A tree is bundled in burlap in preparation for going to the Green Heart study area. © Mike Wilkinson

The Green Heart Project

With the University of Louisville's Envirome Institute and several other key partners, The Nature Conservancy helped launch the first-of-its-kind Green Heart project in 2017 to measure nature’s effect on human health. This six-year scientific study leverages funding from the National Institutes of Health and TNC's generous donors to answer the question: Can trees improve cardiovascular health?

Worker actively planting a tree and sun light shining.
Tree planting Large trees are planted along a busy highway in Louisville to create a barrier to air pollution going into the Green Heart community. © Mike Wilkinson

The University of Louisville recorded baseline health indicators from a group of more than 700 south Louisville residents, and TNC is spearheading the greening implementation—planting thousands of trees in the study area. With numerous auxiliary studies accompanying the main study, the Green Heart project could provide foundational science that leverages changes in public policies and increases investments in nature as a public health strategy in cities around the world.

Young girl among wildflowers reading a brochure.
Girl with wildflowers A young girl views wildflowers at Brown and Crutcher nature preserves in Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson

A Park for Mill Creek

The 34-square mile Mill Creek watershed in Louisville is a highly urbanized area with only 13 percent forest cover. When the Kentucky chapter began its work here in 2017, our goal was to enhance forest cover and improve water quality in Mill Creek.

Series of trees recently planted with support poles.
Mill Creek New trees have been planted in the Mill Creek watershed. © Catherine Fitzgerald

Thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s leadership, nearly 1,000 acres of land have been transferred to the natural areas program of Louisville’s Parks Department. Our partners at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources are embarking on one of the nation’s largest-ever urban stream restoration projects on Mill Creek. When completed, Mill Creek will be healthier, and residents of south Louisville will enjoy increased access to public green space in their neighborhoods.

By the Numbers

  • Icon of trees

    1,700+

    trees planted to date for the Green Heart project

  • Icon of people

    735

    community members enrolled to date in UofL's HEAL study

  • Icon of protected land

    1,000

    acres protected in Mill Creek watershed

Two hikers walking a nature path next to a rock ledge.
Hiking Two hikers enjoy the trail at Mantle Rock Nature Preserve. © Mike Wilkinson
A nature path with trail signage on a tree in front.
Dupree Nature Preserve A trail sign is seen at Dupree Nature Preserve in Kentucky. © Oliver Starks
Trail signage that reads FORESTLAND with maps.
Forestland Sign A newly installed sign on forestland at Sally Brown and Crutcher Nature Preserves in Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson
The Kentucky State capitol building with flags flying.
Influencing policy Kentucky State Capitol © Helmut Brunar
A child with two braids smelling a yellow flower.
Investing in the future A little girl smells a wildflower © Kinzie + Riehm
Two hikers walking a nature path next to a rock ledge.
Hiking Two hikers enjoy the trail at Mantle Rock Nature Preserve. © Mike Wilkinson

Inspiring a Connection with Nature

Our nature preserves tell a compelling story. Can our spirits be restored by hiking a trail through the forest? Might our daily lives be enhanced with a visit to a clear-flowing stream? Our answer to these questions is unequivocally yes. That is why we invested in our public nature preserves during Our Kentucky campaign, adding interpretive signage, new trails, and improved parking access to increase visitation and enhance the experience.

A nature path with trail signage on a tree in front.
Dupree Nature Preserve A trail sign is seen at Dupree Nature Preserve in Kentucky. © Oliver Starks

If we can connect more people with nature, we believe that will lead to a brighter future both for the visitor and for the land. When people learn to value nature, they are inspired to protect it for others. Access to nature is particularly important for urban residents, whose numbers will continue to increase into the future. During the campaign, we opened Pine Creek Barrens Nature Preserve, just a 40-minute drive from Louisville, to the public.

Trail signage that reads FORESTLAND with maps.
Forestland Sign A newly installed sign on forestland at Sally Brown and Crutcher Nature Preserves in Kentucky. © Mike Wilkinson

With a three-mile hiking trail, Pine Creek Barrens allows urban residents the opportunity to view a variety of habitats, from rare barrens, dense forest, open grasslands, and a tranquil creek. Using Pine Creek as a model, we also improved signage at our Mantle Rock, Dupree, Sally Brown, and Crutcher Preserves and plan to do so at Bad Branch this coming year.

The Kentucky State capitol building with flags flying.
Influencing policy Kentucky State Capitol © Helmut Brunar

Influencing Policy

To have the greatest impact on nature, we must invest in public policy and government relations. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we hired the Kentucky chapter’s first Director of External Relations during the campaign. With enhanced ability to engage with our elected officials, we have more of an impact on critical issues like clean energy, land protection, and a changing climate. We saw an early win in helping pass the Great American Outdoors Act, a once in generation victory for land conservation and public lands management.

A child with two braids smelling a yellow flower.
Investing in the future A little girl smells a wildflower © Kinzie + Riehm

Investing in Our Future

At the beginning of Our Kentucky campaign, we sought to raise $4 million in new bequest commitments, a source of future support that would allow us to double our endowment and increase our financial strength and stability. Thanks to the incredible generosity of our dedicated supporters, we eclipsed our new bequest goal by more than $8 million. The future of the Kentucky chapter is much brighter and more secure thanks to the success of this campaign.

By the Numbers

  • Icon of trees

    5

    nature preserves with new signage

  • Icon of protected lands

    158

    acres in the new Pine Creek Barrens Nature Preserve

  • Icon of people

    4

    new staff positions

Woman in event attire and eyeglasses smiling.
Dottie Cordray Headshot of a woman with brown hair and glasses with a tree in the background. © Courtesy of Dottie Cordray

Dottie Cordray

“This campaign is about impact and lasting results. Five years ago, the Kentucky chapter of The Nature Conservancy launched this ambitious conservation campaign to make a real difference, and we focused our efforts on projects that would provide the most benefit to nature and people.

Thanks to the many passionate people across Kentucky who believe in our mission as much as we do, we have surpassed every one of our campaign goals.”

Dottie Cordray, campaign co-chair

“This campaign is about impact and lasting results. Five years ago, the Kentucky chapter of The Nature Conservancy launched this ambitious conservation campaign to make a real difference, and we focused our efforts on projects that would provide the most benefit to nature and people.

Thanks to the many passionate people across Kentucky who believe in our mission as much as we do, we have surpassed every one of our campaign goals.”

Dottie Cordray, campaign co-chair

Man smiling with a water view in the background.
Gordon Dabney Kentucky Campaign Co-Chair © TNC

Gordon Dabney

“It is an honor to have been part of such an important effort and a privilege to work with so many passionate volunteers and our incredibly dedicated staff.  As the entire world grapples with the challenges of climate change and a growing population, our mission has never been so important.

The financial support shown during this campaign has been humbling and our conservation results give me great hope for the future.”

“It is an honor to have been part of such an important effort and a privilege to work with so many passionate volunteers and our incredibly dedicated staff.  As the entire world grapples with the challenges of climate change and a growing population, our mission has never been so important.

The financial support shown during this campaign has been humbling and our conservation results give me great hope for the future.”

Gordon Dabney, campaign co-chair

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Man with light hair standing front of brick background.
Mike Mays Board of Trustees Chair © TNC

Mike Mays

“I am moved by the beauty of the natural world, and I want this beauty to be here for my children and for future generations to enjoy. Our responsibility to conserve nature is more important than ever as our planet deals with the impacts of a changing climate. 

I feel strongly about supporting The Nature Conservancy’s work for many reasons. We are getting real conservation work done, we are working in cooperation with diverse partners and stakeholders, and we are making an impact that will endure. 

“I am moved by the beauty of the natural world, and I want this beauty to be here for my children and for future generations to enjoy. Our responsibility to conserve nature is more important than ever as our planet deals with the impacts of a changing climate. 

I feel strongly about supporting The Nature Conservancy’s work for many reasons. We are getting real conservation work done, we are working in cooperation with diverse partners and stakeholders, and we are making an impact that will endure. 

As we wrap up Our Kentucky campaign, I am energized to roll up my sleeves to continue the Kentucky chapter’s important work. The challenges are still immense, but so too are our opportunities to secure a better, greener, and healthier future where nature and people thrive.” 

Mike Mays, Board of Trustees chair

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Man with sunglasses smiling with a red shirt.
Lee Andrews, USFWS U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service © TNC

Lee Andrews, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

“With our partners, we have long wanted to remove Green River Lock and Dam #5 and #6. These removals will almost instantly provide better habitat for fish and mussels on many miles of the Green and for the Kentucky cave shrimp underground in Mammoth Cave National Park. Additionally, these removals provide better and safer access to the river fo...

“With our partners, we have long wanted to remove Green River Lock and Dam #5 and #6. These removals will almost instantly provide better habitat for fish and mussels on many miles of the Green and for the Kentucky cave shrimp underground in Mammoth Cave National Park. Additionally, these removals provide better and safer access to the river for families to enjoy this incredible resource. The Nature Conservancy has been a phenomenal partner—really the glue that has held this long-term partnership together over nearly seven years. I hope we can roll this success right into our next dam removal on the Barren River.” 

Lee Andrews, Field Supervisor for the Southeast Region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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Woman in eyeglasses; a ceiling fan blade in background.
Sherry Houchens Recipient of the Green Heart Project © TNC

Sherry Houchens

“I love the outdoors. I can no longer do the things I used to do, such as hiking and camping, but I can enjoy nature around my house. The Green Heart project planted several shrubs and a beautiful magnolia tree. It has bloomed both seasons since the year it was planted. I think nature is extremely important to our health. I have asthma, so air ...

“I love the outdoors. I can no longer do the things I used to do, such as hiking and camping, but I can enjoy nature around my house. The Green Heart project planted several shrubs and a beautiful magnolia tree. It has bloomed both seasons since the year it was planted. I think nature is extremely important to our health. I have asthma, so air quality matters so much. I hope the Green Heart project can prove that trees improve air quality, and that there is a connection between nature and our health.If this project could help bring more nature into the cities, I think it would be amazing.”

Sherry Houchens, Green Heart project tree recipient

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Woman and man with eyeglasses side by side headshots.
TNC Supporters Drs. Alfonso Cerveraand Patricia Bautista-Cervera © TNC

Dr. Alfonso Cervera and Dr. Patricia Bautista-Cervera

“As time goes by, we appreciate the opportunity to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Our favorite time is when we, as a family, get the opportunity to go hiking at parks and nature preserves. For us, the most important and interesting Nature Conservancy projects are restoration efforts—projects that seek to restore the health and resilie...

“As time goes by, we appreciate the opportunity to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Our favorite time is when we, as a family, get the opportunity to go hiking at parks and nature preserves. For us, the most important and interesting Nature Conservancy projects are restoration efforts—projects that seek to restore the health and resilience of natural systems, such as the removal of dams on the Green River and its tributaries. We support The Nature Conservancy because we are convinced that the work it is doing is key to our collective future, both in the U.S. and around the world. We must work together to preserve, heal, and restore the world for ourselves and future generations.” 

Drs. Alfonso Cerveraand Patricia Bautista-Cervera

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Mountain landscape covered in forests with the sun low on the horizon, casting many colors in the sky..
Cumberland Forest Project An early morning sunrise of fog and mountains within the Kentucky portion of the Cumberland Forest Project. © Cameron Davidson