Staying true to its name, the Bad Branch State Nature Preserve presents unpredictable twists and turns due to its location along the south face of Pine Mountain. In fact, at one point, the stream drops by more than 1,000 feet in less than three miles.
This landscape also boasts a boulder-strewn stream with pools and riffles, wet rock faces, talus areas and pine barrens—a variety of distinct habitat types making it an exceptional example of Kentucky’s natural beauty and biological biodiversity. Eventually, the water carves out Bad Branch Gorge, with numerous overhangs, rock shelters and sandstone cliffs rising well above the surrounding forest.
A hallmark of the nature preserve is a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, which can be heard long before being approached. Visitors taking the strenuous hike to Bad Branch Falls pass through large hemlock stands, rare flowers and plants, and dense thickets of rhododendron.
With portions owned and managed by both The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission (KSNPC), the 2,639-acre nature preserve protects the scenic beauty of the gorge and one of the largest concentrations of rare and uncommon species known in the state. TNC’s portion of the nature preserve contains the upper gorge of Bad Branch and a smaller area containing the upper headwaters of Pine Branch. Approximately 448 acres of TNC’s property hosts a hemlock-dominated forest with a mixture of yellow birch, Fraser magnolia and tulip poplar. Much of this forest was selectively logged during the early 1940s; however, several large groves still remain virtually untouched.
Infestation of the non-native insect pest hemlock wooly adelgid.
TNC acquired 435 acres in 1985 and sold to KSNPC, beginning a successful partnership. Bad Branch was added to the Kentucky State Wild River System in 1986. In 1990, a $500,000 gift from the Mary and Barry Bingham Sr. Fund enabled TNC to purchase an additional 1,031 acres in the upper watershed. In 1997 KSNPC acquired and dedicated another 820 acres. Another 900 adjacent acres have been protected through registry and management agreements with adjacent landowners.
TNC and KSNPC work in partnership to maintain the area's ecological integrity intact. This includes implementing a soil injection treatment to more than 20,000 hemlock trees to combat the hemlock woolly adelgid non-native insect pest with support from Bayer CropScience and state and federal partners.
Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service