Just as its name implies, the centerpiece of The Nature Conservancy's Mantle Rock Nature Preserve is a 30-foot high natural sandstone bridge spanning 188 feet embellished by bluffs, shelters, honeycomb formations, fluorite deposits and a rock-lined stream. The nature preserve also contains extraordinary biological diversity, with spectacular springtime wildflowers and an upland forest interspersed with the best example of rare and fragile sandstone glades in all of Kentucky
History also makes its mark at Mantle Rock. The nature preserve is a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, which the Cherokee Nation followed after being forced to give up its lands east of the Mississippi River and migrate to an area in present-day Oklahoma. During the harsh winter of 1838-39, approximately 1,766 Cherokee from the Peter Hildebrand Detachment spent about two weeks in the Mantle Rock area while waiting for the Ohio River to thaw and become passable. Many Cherokees return each year to pay homage to their ancestors.
What’s At Stake
Kentucky's only known occurrence of June grass thrives here along with other glade species such as prickly pear cactus, rush foil, hairy lipfern, little bluestem, pinweed and poverty grass. Scattered deep soil pockets are dominated by gnarled and stunted post oak, blackjack oak, farkleberry and red cedar. Mantle Rock also hosts plentiful forest and grassland wildlife species that include songbirds, deer, turkey and squirrels.
The Reynolds Metals Company donated 190 acres in 1988 to establish the nature preserve. Acquisition of the adjacent 175-acre Calendar Tract in 1995, together with the donation of two acres by the Felburn Foundation, grew the nature preserve to its current size.
While not within the nature preserve’s boundaries, TNC acquired the adjacent 900-acre Reynolds Tract in 2001 to serve as an additional wildlife buffer to aid long-term protection efforts. Across the road, an additional 1,000 acres that was originally purchased and permanently protected with a conservation easement held by TNC is now managed as part of the Livingston County Wildlife Management Area and State Natural Area. All of these lands are open to the public.
In 2004, the National Park Service recognized the nature preserve as a certified site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and worthy of representation in the National Register of Historic Places. In 2010 TNC, in partnership with the National Park Service, unveiled new exhibits and a retracement hiking trail to highlight the nature preserve’s cultural history and the rarity and wonderment of its sandstone glades and native prairie. Visitation to the nature preserve has been on the upswing ever since.
Protect the sandstone glade community, especially rare populations of June grass and Buckley's goldenrod. Other priorities include restoring and managing native prairies and glades through fire management, and maintaining the site for public access.
National Park Service, Cherokee Nation, Trail of Tears Association, University of Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, Livingston County Government, Boy Scouts of America, private landowners