Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Fish And Wildlife Headquarters Campus In Frankfort Offers Hiking, Fishing And Wildlife Viewing Free Of Charge
It’s more like a park or recreational area than an office complex.
The headquarters of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is a 262-acre campus just west of Frankfort off U.S. 60.
A walking tour is the best way to explore the grounds.
There’s plenty of green space to relax and enjoy nature. Trees canopy most of the roadway that encircles two fishing lakes. There are wildflower gardens, two woodland hiking trails, and a nature interpretive center with indoor and outdoor exhibits.
It’s hard to miss where to turn off US 60. A statue of a non-typical buck stands atop the stone entranceway, flanked by wood fencing. The headquarter grounds are open year-round, except state holidays, daylight to dusk. There’s ample parking available, so put on some comfortable shoes and start walking.
Just inside the entranceway you’ll notice two greenhouses on the right, home to the department’s native plant program. “We raise 130 native perennials from seed,” said Mary Carol Cooper, horticulturalist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, “mostly wildflowers with a few trees and shrubs.”
The plants are sold to the public for $5 or $6 each. This year’s native plant sale is Saturday, Aug. 28, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“Fall is a good time to plant perennials if you are trying to establish a permanent hummingbird or butterfly garden,” said Cooper.
Across the road from the greenhouses are some mowed paths through an old field -- tall weeds, trees and shrubs, an ideal place to observe rabbits or songbirds. There are also mowed paths between the Wildlife Annex and Fisheries Annex buildings in an area planted in summer-blooming wildflowers.
The headquarters property dates back to the mid-1940s. The original tract was 132 acres, bought for $12,575 as a game farm to propagate quail and also experiment with trees and shrubs for wildlife habitat. Today, there are more than 10 office buildings on this property. In recent years, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife acquired an additional 130 acres.
The headquarters have become a tourism destination, popular with school groups touring the Salato Wildlife Education Center and families holding reunions or cookouts amid the shade trees and picnic shelters.
For adventuresome singles and couples there’s the Pea Ridge Loop Trail for hiking and wildlife watching. Anglers of all ages appreciate the good fishing in the well-stocked lakes.
The entrance roadway is called Sportsman’s Lane. Game Farm Road forks off Sportsman’s Lane encircling the Upper and Lower Lake. The one-mile loop is popular with walkers and joggers.
The 7-acre Upper Lake and 3-acre Lower Lake are open year-round to public fishing with plenty of room to fish from the banks or on the spacious fishing pier. No boats are allowed.
“As part of the Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINS) program, the lakes are stocked two to three times a year with rainbow trout, and a minimum of four times a year with channel catfish,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The stocking size on the channel catfish is 12- to 16- inches.”
Surplus fish from the department’s two hatcheries are also occasionally stocked. “This year it was bluegills, and some 10- to 15-pound brood catfish,” Buynak said.
Through the years, the Upper and Lower Lakes have also received random stockings of blue catfish, largemouth bass, white bass, yellow bass and hybrid striped bass.
The Salato Wildlife Education Center, which opened on Oct. 1, 1995, is named in honor of the late Dr. James C. Salato, an avid angler and waterfowl hunter. Dr. Salato represented the 4th Commission District on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commission for an unprecedented 28 years.
The Salato Wildlife Education Center showcases Kentucky’s diverse regional ecosystems and wealth of fish and wildlife resources.
Inside, get a close-up look at live fish, turtles Kentucky’s venomous snakes – the copperhead, rattlesnake and cottonmouth – and learn about restored wildlife species.
Outside, walk on paved, wheelchair accessible paths through native plant gardens to see bison, bear, deer, wild turkey and elk.
Visitors can sign up for special workshops and interpretive programs. Log on to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at fw.ky.gov, click on the “Salato Wildlife Center” tab, then click on “Calendar of Events” for upcoming workshops and programs.
The Salato Wildlife Education Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, and closed on Sundays and Mondays. The operating hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The Salato Wildlife Education Center closes from mid-December through mid-February for winter.
There are two hiking trails on the Fish and Wildlife Headquarters property. Click on the “Salato Wildlife Center” tab on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s homepage at fw.ky.gov for a printable map of the hiking trails.
The HabiTrek is a .71-mile nature trail through the woods and fields behind the Dragonfly Marsh. The footpath wanders past a sinkhole, rocky karst outcrops, and a variety of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers. If you start early in the day, you may even spot some deer and wild turkey. A 3-acre field along the way has been converted from fescue to native prairie grasses and wildflowers to provide better habitat and attract more wildlife for viewing. The trail is rated “easy.”
The Pea Ridge Loop Trail is a three-mile “moderately strenuous” trail that branches off the HabiTrek Trail that takes about two hours to traverse.
“The trail passes through an old farmstead,” said Kristy Stroud, a conservation educator for the Salato Wildlife Education Center. “Along the way you see the succession of old fields reverting to forest, where the cedars are dying out and hardwoods are taking over.”
The trail passes over hills and down into valleys, past an old farmhouse, limestone rock walls and a pond.
“There are a few benches along the way to stop for a rest and to view wildlife,” said Stroud.
Hikers are reminded to dress for the weather and wear sturdy shoes. Bring along some water and maybe a snack.
Bring your family and visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Headquarters and enjoy a day of hiking, viewing wildflowers or fishing. During these tough economic times it is a relief that a family can enjoy all of these facilities without spending a penny. Admission to the headquarters and the Salato Wildlife Education Center is free.