LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest is adding more than 950 acres of woods, creeks and wetlands in the largest expansion since the Bullitt County, Ky., forest was established in the late 1920s.

The purchase of the “Big Level” – named for a plateau atop a summit north of Ky. 245 – brings Bernheim’s total area to 15,625 acres. Officials plan to limit access to the land to researchers and nature programs.

Bernheim bought the tract from the Simon family, which owns Publishers Printing in Shepherdsville. Nick Simon, who was the company’s president at the time of his death last year, was a Bernheim trustee from 1990 to 1997, according to a news release.

“Bernheim was already the largest privately held contiguous forest dedicated to conservation and education in the eastern United States and thanks to the Simon family and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, we are protecting even more land,” Mark Wourms, Bernheim’s executive director, said in a news release.

Bernheim covered the $1.4 million purchase price through a grant from the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund, which is administered by the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Kentucky field office.

The eastern edge of the “Big Level” includes two federally endangered or threatened bat species – the Indiana bat and the northern long-eared bat.

Bernheim said in the release that it has earmarked $140,000 for work on the property that will include improvements to streams and wetlands and removing invasive species. Plans also call for “enhancements” to bat habitat.

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