Hi Lewis Pine Barrens State Nature Preserve protects 303 acres of outstanding pine-oak woodland, dominated by pitch pine (Pinus rigida) and chestnut oak (Quercus montana), on the steep, mid to upper south-facing slope of Pine Mountain in Harlan County. About 164 were acquired and dedicated into the state nature preserves system on June 4, 1997. An additional 139 acres owned by the Southeast Education Foundation was dedicated June 9, 2004. The Southeast Education Foundation was established in 1981 with the mission to develop private sector support and resources for scholarships, instructional programs and administrative needs at Southeast Community College. With the addition of the foundation’s property, the preserve border expanded west to Hi Lewis Branch, safeguarding the remaining pine barrens acreage the commission had sought to protect since 1997. Additional acreage was added in 2017 thanks to the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, bringing the total to 427.
Named for the stream that drains the area, this part of the mountain supports an extremely rare Pine Barrens community as well as a number of rare plants that are found in association with it. The open areas feature an unusual mix of plants typically thought of as prairie plants, such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) and Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and also drought tolerant plants such as low-bush blueberries (Vaccinium sp.). Rare plants found at the site include diminutive screwstem (Bartonia virginica), frostweed (Helianthemum canadense) and the largest known Kentucky population of yellow wild indigo (Baptisia tinctoria).
Spanning 1,000 feet in elevation from the base of the mountain to the ridge crest, the preserve also protects flowering and fruiting American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata), Hemlock-mixed Mesophytic Forest and massive sandstone outcrops and cliffs.
Access is by written permission for research only.