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A lot has changed in 40 years.
When Reb Stacey first purchased more than 700 acres of forestland in Grant County it was overgrown and did not look like much.
It simply was a lot of land for the money.
But, Stacey and his family have been dedicated ever since to restoring the land that rests about 10 miles outside of Dry Ridge.
Now, filled with more than 20 miles of trails, an incomparable scenic view and an array of wildlife, the acreage has been transformed into the Reb Stacey Woodland and Wildlife Center.
“Seven hundred acres when it’s grown up is a lot to get through,” he said. “You couldn’t walk through places. We started working on it. We’ve been doing it ever since. We found some great trees.”
“It’s just a lifetime thing,” Stacey said. “Growing trees is not very exciting. I just didn’t take time to think about what it meant to so many people and the environment until I got involved this way. Growing trees helps everybody.”
For his work, Stacey recently was honored for his commitment to the environment with the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission Lifetime Achievement Earth Day Award at a ceremony in Frankfort.
He was nominated by the Grant County Conservation District Board of Supervisors and received several letters of recommendation.
“Through his many land management activities, he has vastly improved the sustainability of his forestlands,” wrote Ron Meyer, district forester, Bluegrass District of the Kentucky Division of Forestry. “More importantly, the use of his forests have helped to educate an entire generation of Grant County school children of the value of our nature lands.”
“In his 40-plus years of forest management, it can truly be said that Reb has displayed an outstanding commitment to protecting Kentucky’s environment,” wrote Rep Royce Adams, D-Dry Ridge.
Family members from Missouri, Florida, Georgia and Ohio all came into town to celebrate the accomplishment with Stacey.
“That’s the top award,” he said. “I was humbled, you might say. I’ve worked extremely hard down there for a lot of years. It’s paid off.”
In the restoration process, the land has undergone timber stand improvement, a process that is ongoing.
The improvements are made by cutting out all the undesirable parts of the forest so it will not grow back and keeping the crop trees.
Stacey, who came to Grant County in 1960 and bought a lot on Williamstown Lake, said another 50 acres will be going through the process in the next few months.
Although he admits he is not as agile as he once was, Stacey said he still tries to go through the Woodland and Wildlife Center about 30 to 40 times a year.
“I love it,” he said. “I like to go back there. I can’t walk as good as I used to. I’ll take a four-wheeler a lot of times and a pair of clippers and go back there and trim trees and fiddle around.”
“We have walnut trees down here that are 24 inches in diameter and 40 feet to the first limb,” Stacey said. “They’re very rare.”
Over the years, the project expanded to include using his forest as a classroom for young people to learn about the environment and his beloved trees.
Last year, Stacey and members of his family ensured the legacy of his work by granting a perpetual conservation easement on approximately 600 acres to the Northern Kentucky University Research Foundation.
The purpose of the easement is to manage and preserve the environmental and ecological quality of stream, wetlands, meadows and forests on the property.
Under the agreement, the land will continue to undergo restoration and is guaranteed to remain in its natural state.
Stacey said all of his children, who will be the heirs to the land, agreed on the easement plan.
“We want to preserve this land,” he said. “We don’t want to cut, clear or develop lots. We want this to stay the way it is. There’s nothing like it in this part of the country.”