Refuge for Nature

Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve
is Oldham’s outdoor classroom

By Helen E. McKinney,
Contributing Writer

(February 2002) GOSHEN, Ky. – Howard Mahan was a conservationist ahead of his time. In 1978, he remarked of his and wife Virginia’s 200-acre Goshen, Ky., farm, “I wanted our farm to be something special for Oldham Countians and Kentuckians.”
Mahan realized then that the future of his farm lay in subdividing it, if plans were not set for its preservation. He prepared for a future that others could enjoy, long after he and his wife were gone.

Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve

The result was the establishment of the Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, located between Hwy. 1793 and Harmony Lane in northern Oldham County. Its rather remote location prompts many visitors to frequently remark, “I didn’t even know it was here,” said Larry Brown, director of Grounds and Buildings.
“You’re totally surrounded by the city of Goshen,” said Brown, reiterating Mahan’s fear that his farm would have been incorporated into the city had it fallen into the hands of developers. Seen as an alternative, the preserve is an oasis quietly tucked into the heart of Goshen.
The Mahan’s christened their farm, “Hill O’ Content.” It had been presented to them in 1921 as a wedding gift from Virginia’s father, L.L. Creasey. The newlyweds set up housekeeping in a crude, four-room log cabin built in 1807.
The farm was part of an original land grant of 287 acres deeded to James Taylor. William Edwards was the next owner, purchasing it on Jan. 26, 1807. Edwards erected the house that same year, and for a time it was the parsonage for community pastors and teachers.
Almost immediately, the Mahan’s began remodeling their new home, wrapping the outside in clapboard. They converted the “chicken run,” as Howard had labeled the dog trot, into a beautiful, stylish hallway that complemented the overall resplendency of the estate.
Wildlife and native grass plots, a field house and nature center are only a few components of the preserve. Winding trails take the hiker past more then 45,000 trees, shrubs and bushes Mahan had planted by 1978 to attract a variety of birds to the area.
“We feel we can be an outdoor lab,” said Executive Director Glenn Yost.
Various hiking and birding clubs use the preserve, as well as school groups and boy scouts. It is an idyllic setting in which to educate student’s for the day, topping off their experience with a picnic before leaving. The City of Goshen recently provided playground equipment for the preserve.
Several educational and enrichment programs are offered at the preserve on topics such as trees, wildflowers, birds of prey, history, wetlands, song birds, and woodlands and meadows. Yost said that certain individuals skilled in particular areas of study aid with these programs by sharing their knowledge with school groups.
One of the preserve’s regular resources is J. D. Stucker, whose area of expertise is Native American Culture. “I teach about the way of life before Kentucky was Kentucky, and after Kentucky was Kentucky,” said Stucker.
His program provides the listener with insight into the tribes, dress, dance, music, food, dwellings and much more about the culture of Kentucky’s natives.
Stucker has also helped build a Native American diorama in the preserve’s Nature Center. Children can often learn more from such displays than from history books, Stucker said. He strives to teach children that the old ways of doing things are the best way, and to “explain the ecosystem the way it was meant to be.”
Such programs put into perspective what students may already have been taught in the classroom. The program content stresses what is most familiar and native to this particular area of Kentucky and the Ohio River. The preserve can comfortably accommodate up to 125 students at one time.
There are 50 acres of meadows, with wetlands, springs, groves and an unusual rock platform. A frog pond is often used when teaching in the outdoor setting, and Little Huckleberry Creek runs merrily through the farm.
Approximately 160 acres of the original Mahan farm are contained within the preserve today.
A board comprised of seven directors now manage the preserve, seeing to its overall maintenance. According to Yost, the Mahans set up separate foundations before each died, desiring that the money be used for the upkeep of the preserve.
Having no children of their own, the Mahans left a considerable amount of money for the upkeep of their preserve. The dividends cover all expenses, said Yost.
The Mahan’s generosity has enabled youth groups, school students and other organizations to garner an understanding and appreciation of the natural resources of the land from the hands-on experiences they observe at the preserve.
Sue Stock, a retired Oldham County science teacher, says she loves the idea of teaching in an outdoor educational setting. Stock assists the preserve by providing a program on rocks and soils because, as she puts it, “That’s what’s underfoot. Every rock has its own story.”
“Kids spend so little time outside,” Stock said. Stock said that when she was young, she played outside all of the time, learning first-hand about the marvels of nature. “Kids today don’t have this same opportunity unless you provide it for them. The outdoors is our laboratory.”
Stock stresses in her programs at the preserve that the “land ties in to what we do with nature. It’s wonderful to study the changes of this very farm over time, as it changed from farm to preserve.”
Howard Mahan expressed his dream to incorporate his farm into an extensive wildlife sanctuary when he said, “It has become the labor of my life, and I feel we’re on the right track.” For his efforts, Mahan in 1978 was awarded a “Soil Conservationist of the Year” plaque by the League of Kentucky Sportsmen and the National Wildlife Association.
That same year, more than 350 quail were raised in a special brood house and released on the farm. Plans were designed for certain areas of the preserve to contain food plots for wildlife to feed upon. Corn, sorghum and millet were planted for these purposes.
“Larry is trying to increase the current wildlife population,” said Yost, by continuing to develop and add to the existing plots. In Yost’s words, the preserve truly is a “refuge for nature.”

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