Kentucky’s Floracliff

  • Nature, Animals & Parks
  • 1958

Mary Wharton completed a doctorate in botany at the University of Michigan, then moved to Kentucky to put her knowledge to work near her family home. She led the Georgetown College biology department for almost 30 years, wrote several books on Kentucky plants, and even discovered several new species. But perhaps her finest achievement was in personally assembling a nature sanctuary in Fayette County, which she called Floracliff and built up through numerous purchases over the course of her life, starting in 1958. The property includes Elk Lick Falls, a 61-foot waterfall that is one of the largest surface deposits in the U.S. of travertine (a form of limestone made by mineral springs). It also hosts wildflowers, rare plants, and trees hundreds of years old. By the time Wharton was finished, Floracliff included nearly 300 acres and had a nonprofit to oversee it, and she left an $800,000 endowment when she died in 1991. In 1996 Floracliff became a Kentucky state nature preserve. Six years later one of Wharton’s Georgetown College colleagues left a bequest to add a nature center, which was finished in 2010.