Bordering the Kentucky River just outside of Lexington is Raven Run Nature Sanctuary, a 734-acre natural area complete with trails, woodlands, streams, meadows, and a team of devoted staff dedicated to making visitors feel welcome and engaged. From classes exploring on field trips to families stopping by for weekend hikes, visitors to Raven Run find that there is something for everyone, and one visit is almost never enough.
“Although there are so many memorable moments from working with so many members of the public,” says Jennifer Hubbard-Sánchez, Recreation Manager, “some of our favorites are the kids who come out on school field trips and then come back shortly after with their parents because they want show off what they have learned.”
Open year-round, the nature sanctuary is an ideal classroom no matter the season. And it is a popular one—in the fall of 2019 alone, Raven Run hosted more than 500 youth from Fayette County Public Schools for school day programs.
Activities and workshops for these kinds of field trips are developed in alignment with Kentucky Academic Standards. “We have designed programs on fossils, Kentucky history, and habitats and adaptations that were implemented with groups of several different ages,” Hubbard-Sánchez says. “Our programs’ content can be adapted to fit the needs of teachers as we understand the need to structure field trips around the Standards.”
To make visits accessible to as many students as possible, Raven Run offers transportation grants through the Friends of Raven Run to cover the cost of school busses for Fayette County Public School groups.
Students stay engaged during lessons at Raven Run through a mix of indoor learning, outdoor experiences, and hikes. Scout groups and other community organizations also frequent the sanctuary for an array of activities, from wildflower walks to invasive species removal workshops. “It’s exciting to see people come to a program and leave with new knowledge that they’re excited about,” says Park Naturalist Anna Wiker. “Seeing people’s mindsets change about a preconceived notion they may have about a certain animal, snake, or spider is always satisfying to experience.”
And, Hubbard-Sánchez says,“seeing the magic of little kids tagging monarchs in late summer and watching them fly away is a special moment a lot of us remember.”
No visitor leaves Raven Run without having witnessed the staff’s palpable enthusiasm for their work. “Every day I learn something new about the land, whether it’s about the history of the preserve or a neat fact about an animal that lives here,” says Recreation Leader Phoebe Kingsley. “You never know who will stop by for a program or a hike, and seeing a kid’s face light up when they see a unique creature for the first time is always so exciting and sweet.”
Seth Paddick, Recreation Specialist, says he and his fellow staff are motivated by having the opportunity “to take part in conserving a natural area for people to enjoy and learn about the importance of the natural world.” And, Kingsley adds, “not everyone can say that they get to hike at work!”
Belonging to the city of Lexington and funded through tax dollars, Raven Run is a welcome retreat from city life for more than 60,000 visitors each year. “We may be a nature sanctuary, but we also work for the public,” Hubbard-Sánchez says. “We welcome new ideas and feedback from all members of the public on how we can improve Raven Run for everyone!”