“Natural areas are requisite to our way of
life, for it is to nature that man frequently turns for
inspiration. Also they furnish the only true background
against which to measure the changes that civilization has
wrought in our environment. They often help us to
understand and tolerate such changes. As living museums of
an earlier day, they provide unsurpassed opportunities for
studies in the natural sciences”
Official brochure, 1965.
According to Bill Kemper, one
of the founders of the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge, the
idea for a nature refuge originated at a dinner party one
evening in the early 60’s. Guests were discussing their
various interests in nature and a desire to have a place to view
wildflowers, birds and other native wildlife in a natural
setting. After listening to some of the ideas, Mr. Kemper
noted that the Knob region was such an interesting and unique
area of the local countryside, it would be nice to buy some
acreage there as a preservation effort. Dr. Mary Ashby
Cheek declared that to be a splendid idea, and added that Mr.
Kemper would be just the right person to pursue obtaining such
In searching for Knob
property, Mr. Kemper was aided enormously by Dr. Roy Ellis, a
native of the Forkland area within the Knobs, and a professor of
physics at Centre College. A 480 acre tract of land was
procured for the sum of $32,500. Local banks joined forces
to loan money for the purchase, and a Board of Directors was
formed. Articles of Incorporation for the Central Kentucky
Wildlife Refuge were signed on September 9th, 1965.
The CKWR was formed as a non-stock, non-profit Corporation.
Initial Directors were William Kemper, Roy Ellis, E. Wilbur
Cook, LeRoy Ullrich, Mrs. James F. (Martha) Clay, Jack B. Stith,
Joseph Mattingly, Jr., S.R. Cheek, Mrs. Bowman (Margaret) Myers,
and Joe Frankel Jr.
In an effort to raise funds to
pay off the mortgage, a brochure was written and published,
explaining the purpose and vision for the Refuge. Noted
artist Ray Harm produced the cover of the brochure, and came to
Danville as guest speaker at a fund raising dinner.
Meanwhile, out at the Refuge,
trails were being developed, primarily following old logging
roads. The logging roads were from many years past, and in
the intervening years natural forces yielded toppled trees and
resurgent vegetation to the extent that trailblazing was
necessary. Some trails went around the base of the knobs, while
others wound up the slopes and along the crest of the knobs.
The acreage below the knobs would continue to be farmed, both in
an effort to preserve knob life within the Refuge, and also to
use the farm income to reduce the mortgage debt. Part of the
Refuge’s purpose was to serve as a place where nature could be
studied and observed.
While there were streams on
the property, there was no standing body of water in which to
observe aquatic life and habitats. In 1969, Island Pond
was constructed, followed by Woodland Pond in 1972. The
construction of these ponds allowed students working on projects
to compare life in quiet waters with that in the nearby streams.
Starting in the early 1970’s, thousands of White Pine and
Virginia Pine trees were planted to provide increased winter
coverage for wildlife.
There was a family living on the original
property when it was purchased to create the Refuge. They
served as the first caretakers more from the standpoint of being
there as from being selected. Over the years, the role of
caretaker of the Refuge was developed and enlarged. It was
agreed that the person in that role should live on the property,
and in 1975 a home was built to be the residence for whoever
served as caretaker. Several families have served that
role admirably, including John Stamper, Rob and Dee Pendygraft,
Robert and Susan Anderson, Jim and Rose-Marie Roessler, and the
current couple, Rob and Dee Pendygraft (again) . The home
underwent a major repair and renovation in 1995. Along
with the other duties of the caretaker is maintenance of the
Bird Blind. This building was constructed in 1975, and is
situated in front of the caretaker’s home. There is a path
from the Refuge parking lot down to the Bird Blind. There
is stadium-style seating with a large window outfitted with
one-way glass. A large group of feeders with different
openings for different birds sits in front of the window where
visitors can watch the various species feeding there year round.
In 2009 the blind was renamed in honor of Dr. Fred Loetscher.
Two more ponds were developed
in the 1980s. The Cheek Wetlands Pond is in a somewhat
more remote setting and is designed to attract a variety of
water fowl. The Green Heron Pond is along a trail and has
a bridge which affords a better overhead view of the pond life.
Along these ponds, as well as beside some of the trails, various
bird-houses have been erected to promote the existence of
bluebirds and other varieties of birds in the Refuge domain.
The Mary Ashby Cheek Nature
Center was built in 2000 to encourage the study of wildlife and
to provide a structure to house technology and exhibits.
Classes from area schools regularly come out for programs and a
chance to observe the habitats of all the creatures in the
Refuge. Thanks to the presence of such an excellent
structure, it was decided to establish the position of Education
Director in order to better utilize the facility. J. P. and Jane
Brantley have filled this position since April, 2005. Also in
2000, the Benjamin Bright Moran Observation Platform was
constructed by friends and family in memory of Benjamin.
It overlooks Island Pond and provides a restful, covered viewing
Within the pages
of the original 1965 brochure created to announce the inception
of the Wildlife Refuge was a section titled:
PURPOSE OF CENTRAL KENTUCKY
Thanks to the vision and efforts of those
early advocates, as well as the earnest work on the part of many
coming thereafter, the Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge fulfills
the original purpose over 40 years later to offer an
irreplaceable resource to both the people and wildlife of this
To set aside an area that will provide refuge
and assure a permanent sanctuary for plant and animal forms
native to Central Kentucky.
To replant, and where necessary alter
conditions to provide the habitat required for sustaining
native plant and animal life.
To provide a field laboratory easily
accessible to school age children and others, where plant
and animal life may be studied within a concentrated and
To make available land and technical
assistance so that worthy conservation practices can be
carried out by schools and other organizations.
To provide an area for conducting biological
To set aside a permanent island in Central
Kentucky, open to all on a free admission basis, where
nature may be studied, observed, and enjoyed by any and all
The sanctuary is intended for study,
conservation, and observation and is not intended to be a
general recreational area.