Couple take care of grounds as well as Cliffview center

September 23, 2003|LIZ MAPLES

BRYANT'S CAMP - When Judy and Joe Schueneman became the caretakers of Cliffview, a Catholic retreat center in Garrard County, they found that tall grasses and wild flowers had reclaimed the manicured dairy farm.

Smiling, Joe Schueneman remembers a meadow full of royal purple ironweed and goldenrod. To the couple, their role was not only to be stewards of the center but also of the earth around it.

For several years, they planted their own wildflowers and combated plant species that weren't native to the area. Then a member of The Nature Conservancy came to a retreat there and offered the organization's help.

TNC is a not-for-profit organization that preserves natural areas either by purchasing land or working with land owners.

The Schuenemans promised to preserve the native species there for four years in exchange for help with planting, mowing and burning the meadow. Two years ago, a group had a three-day conference at the retreat center and while there they burned the grounds.


Although at first it seems destructive, a controlled burn kills non-native species and allows planted native grasses and wildflowers a chance to thrive. The burns are done by trained professionals.

The Schuenemans have been pleased with the results. Big bluestem, little bluestem, prairie switchgrass and Indian grasses have grown up to form walls for the walking trails. Even in late summer, the season the Schuenemans said was the grounds' most unattractive, wildflowers have sprung up everywhere.

There are spikes of lavender-blue chicory, banana-yellow partridge peas, delicate Queen Anne's lace and black-eyed susans. Even passion flower vines, which are hard to grow from seed, are abundant here.

The healthy native habitat has attracted native wildlife. Before the burn and planting, the Schuenemans said that a deer spotting was rare, but now does and bucks make frequent appearances. The field flutters with butterflies and birds.

"Some people say it's just a bunch of weeds," Judy Schueneman said. "I think everything has a right to live."

For more information on the center and its programs, visit or call 1-877-792-3330.

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