Flora & Fauna

The book Hiking the Red, A Complete Trail Guide To Kentucky’s Red River Gorge made it a point to describe the habitat and the diverse species of trees that one is likely to encounter at the Red. According to the authors, the species of trees found in the Daniel Boone National Forest includes beech, sugar maples, white pines, hemlock, several types of oak, and hickory. These trees provide habitat for an estimated 67 different species of reptiles and amphibians, 46 species of mammals, and 100 species of birds. Furthermore, the habitat of the DBNF includes endangered species: the Indiana Bat, the Virginia big-eared bat, the red-cockaded woodpecker, and White-haired Goldenrod (p. 14).

Members of the Bluegrass Group Sierra Club (2000). Hiking The Red, A Complete Trail Guide To Kentucky’s Red River Gorge. Louisville: Harmony House Publishers.

The 10 Habitats of the Red River Gorge and Basin

  1. Riparian: Riparian Zones are lands adjacent to rivers and larger creeks. Soils are mineral and nutrient rich and largely alluvial, constructed of clay, sand and rich detritus deposits from the constant incursion of water. The soils are generally deep and support such giants as the American Sycamore Tree, which can reach heights of 167 feet and nearly 13 feet in diameter.
  2. Lower Slopes: Lower Slopes begin more or less at the base of hills, above the riparian zones or floodplains and are rarely inundated by floodwaters. They continue up hill to limestone outcrops and clifflines. In general, the soils are extremely fertile, moist, but not wet, have a neutral pH and develop rich herbaceous communities. The best wildflower displays occur on north-facing, lower slopes in the springtime and upwards of 25 species can be observed in flower in just a few acres, some sites holding 50 or more wildflower species.
  3. Limestone Cliffs: Limestone Cliffs including outcrops and rocky ground comprise a relatively narrow habitat band, positioned between upper and lower slopes. Generally vertical in build, whitish in color and much harder than sandstone, limestone cliffs contain dry exposed rock and little soil.
  4. Limestone Ridgetops: Limestone Ridgetops, when they occur, are relatively flat areas above the limestone cliffs and become increasingly more common in the Knobs Section of the Red River Basin. Soils here are also thin, well drained and may develop a network of sinkholes that hold seasonal rains creating vernal ponds and habitat for a variety of breeding amphibians. If tree cover is sparse, usually where limestone cliffs and ridgetops coincide, there will be prairie-like conditions.
  5. Upper Slopes: Upper slopes more or less begin above the limestone outcrops and clifflines and continue up hill to the base of the massive sandstone cliffs. In general, the soils are drier than lower slopes (especially south and west-facing aspects), have a lower pH (more acidic) and the herbaceous communities are not as well developed.
  6. Sandstone Cliffs: Sandstone Cliffs including outcrops are positioned between upper slopes and sandstone ridges. These are the monarchs among rock in the Gorge and form some of the most interesting habitats on Earth in terms of unique biota, some species found nowhere else and a number waiting scientific description. In the Red River Gorge, more than 900 miles of nearly continuous sandstone clifflines rise above the valley in every direction. Winter is the best time to fully appreciate the display of rock formations. Many springs and seeps originate at the base of clifflines, a result of the “sponging-affect” of the massive porous sandstones. Sandstone cliflines are one of the most fragile and easily damaged ecosystems in the Red River Gorge, so tread lightly and respectfully here.
  7. Sandstone Ridgetops: Sandstone Ridgetops are the highest points in the Red River Gorge and are positioned just above the sandstone clifflines. Generally plateau-like with slightly sloping terrain to the clifflineedges, soils are dry and acidic. Pine and oak predominate the canopy, while mountain laurel, huckleberries and greenbrier often grow in thick tangles beneath.
  8. Openings: Openings include glades, prairies, fields, meadows, roadsides and woodland edges, but may also occur in the middle of an otherwise old growth forest where a large tree has fallen creating a forest gap. In general most openings are anthropogenic and few are truly “natural” in origin. While the majority of woodland wildflowers bloom in early spring when the leaves of trees are still dormant, the preponderance of wildflowers growing in openings are summer and fall bloomers, sporting bright yellows to attract the many emerging butterflies of the region. For most wildflowers, it is all about the light. For most ferns, it is all about the shade.
  9. Moist Ground: Moist Ground can occur anywhere, from valley floors to ridgetops and includes seeps, springs, saturated soils and boggy areas. They may be open or covered by forests. In general, these wet or saturated soils provide a unique niche for plants that like wet feet throughout the growing season. In most cases, the soils are built with heavy clays that retain rainwater or are along the banks of small seeps and springs. Wet sites will contain wildflowers, orchids, sedges, rushes, and spongy mats of sphagnum moss.
  10. Standing Water: Standing Water includes ponds, lakes, old river-oxbows, and swamps. Not long ago, beaver dams and the wetlands created by these amazing animals dominated the broad floodplains of Stanton and Clay City. In fact, Stanton’s original and more captivating name was actually “Beaver Pond.” As farmers settled the lands however, wetlands were drained of their life by a network of drainage tiles and ditches so little remains of the great Beaver Pond Basin.”
red river wildlife information

“Wildflowers and Ferns of Red River Gorge and the Greater Red River Basin” by Dan and Judy Dourson