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1870s Piner Farm at Big Bone Lick to Be Restored

Leslie Piner spent most of her childhood on the family farm in Boone County. She filled her afternoons on the more than 200-acre farm getting dirty while tending to tobacco and hay, chickens, and cattle.

“I’d get off the bus there every day after school, on the weekends, and all summer," she remembers. "I didn't play around too much when I was there. I was kind of a tomboy; wherever my grandpa and dad were, that's where I'd be.”

The rolling farmland, which looks much like it did during Leslie’s late-1980s childhood, borders Big Bone Lick State Historic Site in Union. Family and memories are what Piner Farm means to Leslie, and now the historic property will be a preserved part of Boone County culture. Several Northern Kentucky preservation organizations have acquired Piner Farm, pooling resources to cover the $1.2 million purchase.

The acquisition is a joint effort of Kentucky State Parks, The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, the Northern Kentucky University Center for Environmental Restoration (funded through service fees), and the NKU Research Foundation. A mix of grants and agency funds paid for the land. It’s a remarkable effort in one of the state’s fastest growing counties, where green space is increasingly precious and rare.

On Sept. 5, Northern Kentuckians can see the farm at an Open House at Big Bone Lick (3380 Beaver Rd, Union). The event is sponsored by the NKU Center for Environmental Restoration, which will play a role in restoring a portion of the land to its original state. Lunch, along with a special musical performance by the NKU String Project, will greet attendees. A shuttle will be provided for those who want to get an up-close look at the farm. Those who want the best views should bring their hiking boots, organizers advise.

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Contact the NKU Connect Center at (859) 572-5600 for more information about the Open House and to RSVP; also online here.

Why Piner Farm?

The acquisition of Piner Farm excites area parks officials and preservation groups. With such a large area to explore, the possibilities of new historic and geographic secrets being unveiled are high. Later this year, the state will assume responsibility of the farm. The land will greatly expand Big Bone Lick’s existing 547 acres in the southern portion of the county.

Piner Farm’s proximity to Big Bone Lick offers a glimpse into what the grounds hold. Big Bone Lick is known for its ancient insights into North American life during the last big Ice Age, more than 18,000 years ago. In the early 1700s, fossilized remains of mastodons, wooly mammoths, and ground sloths were discovered here, and the park is known as the “Birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology.”

In addition, it’s been discovered that Delaware and Shawnee Native American tribes settled in the area, known for its large salt springs. The area is also home to a federally protected endangered species: running buffalo clover, a Midwestern perennial. It may also house habitat for the federally protected Indiana Bat, a medium-sized mouse-eared bat.

What's next for Piner Farm?

While few definite plans have been approved for the property, its potential for the region is great. After the Open House, public access to the land will be restricted, but parts will likely open over time.

“At this point there are no plans for public activities on the property, but likely we will develop programming or other public uses,” says Big Bone Lick State Historic Site Park Manager Dean Henson. “Eventually, if the house is stabilized and restored, we could open it up for a variety of uses.”

Meanwhile, the Northern Kentucky Stream and Wetlands Restoration Program will conduct a wetland restoration on the property.

"In the past the land was altered for agricultural use. We want to get it as close as possible to pre-development use,” says Scott Fennell, director of the NKU Center for Environmental Restoration.

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The main Piner Farm house, where Leslie and her family spent so much time, is believed to be one of the first structures built in the Big Bone community, in the 1870s. It also meets standards for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, and could be submitted to the prestigious list in the future.

“The Piner house is…one of few of the original structures that exists today,” Mr. Henson says. “This property is part of the community’s cultural history.”

Ms. Piner says the farm leaving family ownership is bittersweet, but believes her grandfather would be pleased to see the land preserved.

“My grandpa said when something ever happened to him, he wanted the park to have the land,” she says. “He didn’t want to see it developed with lots of houses. I think he would be happy to see this.”

Written by Feoshia Davis

Photos by Joe Simon (used with permission)

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