Originally a campsite for the first settlers in the Bluegrass, this 26-acre nature sanctuary features an array of historical and environmental features. A naturalist is stationed at the Visitors Center.
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole is the first of two natural springs at McConnell Springs. The waters originate from a wide area of SW Lexington, flowing underground through the limestone bedrock.
Prismatic effects due to its unusual depth of 15 feet cause the blue color that is this water’s namesake. This open body of water was caused by a discharge of water from a fissure in the bedrock that had sufficient force to blow away the overlying soil and sediment. It now maintains a conical basin filled by the springs below.
The Boils is the second natural spring at McConnell Springs. The Boils are so named because after a heavy rain the water rushes up from underground so that it looks like the spring is boiling. The pressure is great enough that the fountain-like columns may reach a foot tall.
The boils are cold, rather than hot as their name would seem, and average a temperature of 55 degrees F. The Boils and the Blue Hole are both artesian springs. “Artesian” means a well or spring that forces water to the surface because of pressures below the surface.
The Final Sink
When the waters reach the Final Sink, they disappear into a cave-like formation, and proceed underground for a third of a mile before surfacing again at Preston’s Cave, and eventually reaching Elkhorn Creek.
An exposed window like the Final Sink is characteristic of the Karst topography that underlies much of this area. Sinkholes are also a common feature of Karst systems, formed when surface soil is carried away from below as cracks in the limestone bedrock enlarge.
A major evolution of the Final Sink took place just after the property was acquired. Part of the soil bank at the back right of the main sinking point, collapsed and formed a deep, vertically-walled shaft. This new sink began to enlarge rapidly and threatened some of the trees overlooking the sink. Measures were taken to stop or slow the erosion, but the natural processes of the springs will eventually win out.
The Farm Site
The history of McConnell Springs closely parallels the history of Lexington. Since William McConnell set up camp here in 1775, McConnell Springs has seen a variety of farming and other activities. A gunpowder mill here supplied powder for the war of 1812. After the mill closed, the land changed hands five times, coming to the Cahill family. The stone foundation at the Farm Site once supported a large dairy barn, constructed by the Cahills during the 1920’s. The stone fences were built to partition the land for agricultural purposes into lots suitable for pasturing livestock and raising crops. The Cahills probably took advantage of these fences to contain their trotting horses and their herd of milk cows. In 1958, the land was sold to Central Rock company, who tore down the buildings and started mining rock and gravel. The Friends of McConnell Springs bought the land in 1994, since when the park has been established and conserved as a natural area.
The Bur Oak
The large Bur Oak tree is estimated to be at least 250 years old. This tree was able to grow so large because the Bluegrass region was predominately an Oak Savannah system, open fields of grasses with a few interspersed trees, so competition for light and other resources was low. Animals such as the elk, bison, wolves, cougar and beaver were common when Kentucky was settled. Since human intervention in 1775, however, the flora and fauna of the site has been greatly modified. Heavily shaded areas now limit the possibilities for oak seedlings to germinate, and exotic and invasive plant species have spread throughout the site. The springs still attract raccoons, opossums, squirrels and groundhogs, and birdwatchers will find this a good site to view their feathered friends.
The following guidelines and regulations have been set up for public and personal safety, as well as the protection of the natural and historical features of the park.
- For your own safety and to protect the beauty of the park, stay on the trail.
- Avoid unknown vegetation.
- Trash and litter not only detract from the natural beauty of the park, it can represent a health hazard. Please carry out your trash.
The following are not allowed at McConnell Springs:
- Alcoholic beverages
- Pets – leashed or unleashed
- Concealed weapons (in Education Center Building)
- Rock or tree climbing
- Collection, destruction or defacement of any living or non-living thing in the park
For further information regarding tours, events and information, please call McConnell Springs, (859) 225-4073.
Why no pets at McConnell Springs?
McConnell Springs serves as a nature sanctuary for both visitors and wildlife. McConnell Springs does not allow pets because they can disrupt the natural balance of the sensitive habitats and wildlife that we work to protect and promote as a Nature Sanctuary. Wildlife senses pets, even friendly pets, as predators. The mere presence of an outside animal causes a stress reaction in native wildlife. Pets can also displace wildlife, introduce disease, cause mortality, impact water quality, trample native plants, and detract from wildlife viewing. Lexington Parks and Recreation offers many opportunities to users that want to spend time outdoors with their pets, but McConnell Springs is one of the few places where pets aren’t permitted so we can better protect native plants and animals and provide unique experiences in nature.
McConnell Springs – Kentucky American Water Education Center
Monday – Saturday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday: 1 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Dawn – Dusk