The Natural Element

Billy Rankin, Vice President of Public Programming and Marketing

This is the seventh article in an ongoing series outlining long-range planning at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill. New to the series? You can visit our previous articles here:

3,000 Acres of Discovery

Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill is an expansive property with an interesting balance of land use. By the numbers, the 3,000 acres that make up Shaker Village’s property are divided approximately in this way:

  • 200 acres are “developed,” with buildings, roads and parking areas.
  • 800 acres are agricultural, with most of this being leased land for modern farming, and a little over 1/8 of this acreage used for the Village’s educational farm.
  • 2,000 acres comprise the Preserve at Shaker Village. Of this, 1,000 acres are managed as a prairie, with a habitat of summer grasses and wild flowers. The remaining 1,000 acres are woods, wetlands and waterways.

The Preserve comprises 2/3 of Shaker Village’s land. Each year, between 10-20,000 guests visit the Village specifically for the Preserve. These guests come to hike, bike and ride horses. They come for nature-based programming, and family photos. They come for 5k’s and stargazing. And more are coming every year.

Recent History

Although the Preserve and its 33 miles of multi-use trails are a major part of the Shaker Village experience today, it is a relatively new addition to the organization’s offerings. Until 2008, most of the land that is now managed as a prairie had been operating as a cattle farm. Unfortunately, the cattle operation was not financially sustainable and, as with many business operations during the economic downturn of ’08, change was necessary. The Shaker Village Board of Trustees’ voted to forego management of the cattle operation, scaling down to focus on the educational component instead.

So, what was to become of the cattle pastures that remained?

While the Board realized they needed to move out of the cattle business, there was not yet a consensus on what to move toward. The idea of converting over 1,000 acres to prairie was one born of being in the right place at the right time.

Don Pelly had worn many hats at Shaker Village during his years associated with the nonprofit. While working as a science teacher he found time to participate in the Pleasant Hill Singers, assist with photography at the Village and lead some public programs here and there. When he retired from teaching, he took on a full-time role at the Village. In 2008 he was the Village’s Property Manager, and attending the retirement party for a colleague.

It was at this party that the seeds for the Preserve were sown, if you’ll excuse the pun, as Don first learned in casual conversation that government grants were available for converting pastures to native prairie. After some research into the opportunity, Don presented this option to Shaker Village’s leadership team, and work on creating the Preserve we know today was begun.

Although the Village had previously provided some hiking and riding trails, the initiative to diversify the natural environment on the property also led to the establishment of an expanded trail system. These new resources led to additional environmental studies and educational opportunities. Each success and challenge led to the next opportunity. Soon, Don was appointed as the Village’s first Preserve Manager, a title he passed on in 2015 to Ben Leffew, who had worked alongside Don for years and still oversees operations in the Preserve today.

Jumping Off Points

To access Shaker Village’s trail system, guests begin at one of three different trailheads: East, Center or West. Over 90% of guests use the Center or West trailheads, as they provide access to the greatest variety of trails for hikers, and an equestrian center for horseback riders. As use of the trail system has increased, the need for additional infrastructure to support the guest experience, while also protecting delicate ecosystems, has become more apparent.

Without adequate parking, guests are more likely to park in the grass, along the prairie or near erosion-prone locations near waterways. Without convenient restrooms, guests are more likely to “make their own” wherever nature calls. A higher number of guests is a very good thing, but without the proper amenities, the quality of the experience can decline for everyone.

With these challenges and opportunities in mind, Shaker Village’s Long-Range Planning Committee began a plan to design and construct a new nature center along the road to the Center and West trailheads.

A Prairie Home

A nature center will provide a first-class introduction to the natural and cultural environment surrounding Shaker Village. Along with educational exhibits and indoor gathering space that can be used for a variety of events, the nature center will also provide staff offices, a lab and supply storage. Restroom facilities and public parking will alleviate immediate needs in this area of the property, and the Village’s capacity for hikers, field trips, group tours, summer campers and other guests will expand greatly.

A new nature center at Shaker Village may be located near this location, along the West Lot Road, just prior to the Center Trailhead.

The addition of a nature center will relieve pressures from historic buildings like the 1815 Carpenter’s Shop (Welcome Center) and the 1820 Meeting House (the largest indoor area for banquets currently).

While the design of the new nature center is not yet determined, the Committee has recommended a site that is not in the viewshed of the Historic Centre of the Village, or any other historic buildings. This will allow some flexibility in design, perhaps taking more inspiration from the natural environment than from historic architecture.

Functional goals for the building have been discussed at length, however. After a series of visits to nature centers across the Commonwealth, and an assessment of needs at Shaker Village, the Committee has recommended the following functional goals:

  • A welcoming space to provide visitor orientation to the Preserve
  • ADA compliant throughout the building, and with accessible parking
  • Indoor and outdoor gathering spaces for group programs
  • Ability to seat a minimum of 150 guests for an indoor banquet or reception
  • Flexibility to divide gathering spaces to accommodate multiple and smaller groups
  • Exhibition and gallery space to support interpretation of natural and cultural landscape (could surround reception area)
  • Restrooms with both indoor and outdoor access and ability to subdivide as needed
  • A service kitchen to support hosting catered events
  • Retail opportunities for basic hiking supplies, snacks and souvenirs
  • Staff dedicated spaces, including: offices, breakroom, laboratory, meeting space, restrooms, mud room
  • Adequate storage for event supplies, programming supplies, field supplies, retail inventory and office supplies
  • Parking for guests, staff, coach and school buses
  • Equestrian tie points and loading steps

While the nature center at Shaker Village will be under development in the coming years, you can expect to see additional pilot programs and initiatives in the Preserve that will help our team hone their vision for the new facility. We look forward to sharing more with you, and hearing your feedback along the way!

Follow Our Progress

As projects develop, you can expect to hear more about the progress on social media, through emails and on the Shaker Village blog. We hope you follow along!

If you have questions about master site planning at Shaker Village, or if you would like to support our efforts, please reach out to our Vice President of Public Programming & Marketing, Billy Rankin at or 859.734.1574.

2022: A Year in Review

Melissa Williams, Development Coordinator

2022 has been an incredible year at Shaker Village. There is so much to celebrate and none of it would have been possible without your support as a guest, a passholder, or a donor.

Major Milestone Achieved

Five years ago, William Updike joined the Shaker Village staff as the Vice President of Natural & Cultural Resources. His goal was to secure each of the 34 historic Shaker structures on the site. The first step was to replace aging (and failing) roofs.  William says, “A dry building starts at the top!” Realizing this ambitious vision required significant resources and funding, and it happened.

The 1844 West Family Sisters’ Shop was one of six historic buildings at Pleasant Hill to receive a new roof in 2022.

When you take a stroll down the historic turnpike and throughout the Village you will notice new roofs have been installed on nearly every building over the past five years. Six roofs were replaced just this year.  This is a quite an achievement!

Water poses the biggest threat in historic preservation. When a roof reaches the end of its useful life, it starts to let water in which can damage the building’s structure. Preventing leaks and deflecting water away from the building helps to preserve these original Shaker structures for future generations.  And that is precisely our mission!

Our team of craftsmen have also been hard at work this year on windows in the Old Stone Shop and completing the full preservation of the 1817 East Family Dwelling.  With help from the grounds crew, the Village has truly never looked better!

Growing a Farm, and our “Farmily”

The Farm at Shaker Village is one of the most popular spots on the property for our guests. Can you guess why? It’s the animals!  The Farm and the Garden are cared for by four staff members, and their successes in 2022 are amazing! Check out some of their accomplishments this year:

Alamo, a Texas Longhorn steer, was one of the new additions to The Farm at Shaker Village in 2022.
  • Completed the 3rd year of solar grazing at LG&E, with our sheep, controlling vegetation across 32 acres of solar panels.
  • Increased our flock population and now have almost 200 breeding ewes!
  • Expanded our cattle grazing into a 60-acre sections of native grasses.
  • Added 3 new registered Shorthorn Heifers to our herd, 2 calves and 1 Texas Longhorn steer.
  • Built 2 large sections of woven wire fence in our pastures
  • Redesigned the garden area to have additional walkways for guests.
  • Built a High Tunnel to extend the growing season and completed its first year of production.
  • Finished our 2nd full year of CSA garden shares across two, 10-week periods totaling 11 shares per season
  • Taught dozens of summer campers and hundreds of guests about honey bees and draft animals on our farm.
  • Donated hundreds of pounds of food to those in need.

Engaging Our Guests

Every day at Shaker Village there is a schedule of daily programs and tours for our guests to enjoy.  Our Program Team takes great care and preparation in putting these programs together.  They have a lot of fun interacting with our visitors.  It is the most rewarding part of our work. Continually enhancing the guest experience is our top priority.

This year we launched the much-anticipated Shaker Village App. This FREE app places hundreds of historic images and other rarely seen content right at your fingertips.  It is a great way for you to explore the Village and learn the stories of individual Shakers. Through the App, we hope you will gain a deeper understanding of the Pleasant Hill Shakers and their legacy.

“Local Economies, Global Impacts” opened to the public in March 2022.

In March 2022 Shaker Village also launched the new exhibition, Local Economies, Global Impacts. Sponsored in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services, this award-winning exhibit tells the story of Shaker industry and trade, and is located in the East Family Brethren’s Shop and East Family Sisters’ Shop.

The Program Team and the Curator of Collections are also working on the development, fabrication and installation of two exhibits that will open in 2023.  The first, Searching for Sister Mary, will open in March 2023.  It will celebrate Sister Mary Settles who was the last Shaker to live at Pleasant Hill.  The second exhibit, The Believers: Shaker Theology and Worship, will be installed on the second floor of the 1820 Meeting House.  It will open in fall 2023.

Volunteers Make Improvements to The Preserve

Since the unofficial beginning of The Preserve, we have been constantly working to improve the habitat for all the wild things that call this area home.  We gauge our progress through surveys of plants, trees, birds, small mammals and insects.  This year a quick plant inventory revealed approximately 130 different plant species in The Preserve. And over the years we have observed 108 different species of birds.

Indigo buntings are one of over 100 bird species that can be observed in The Preserve at Shaker Village throughout the year.

As a guest, you can make your own observations in The Preserve by hiking or riding on our multi-use trails.  Our trails are maintained by a team of two staff members and a growing number of dedicated volunteers who meet every third Saturday of the month (March through October). Our volunteers worked throughout the past year to improve the Heritage Trail by removing overgrown honeysuckle. This work opened up the trail and hikers should be treated to a beautiful wildflower display next spring!

We also encourage you to spend some time at the Bird Blind, which was updated this past summer.  It’s a great place to see some of the area’s most abundant birds and insects. The Bird Blind is located at the center trailhead and is accessible.

We Make You Kindly Welcome

The Pleasant Hill Shakers were known for their hospitality and we carry that legacy forward today. Whether you are visiting for the day, staying overnight or spending a holiday here, we look forward to seeing you!

At The Inn this year, we renovated the bathrooms in four of our guest rooms.  These updated bathrooms now feature walk-in showers and more spacious bathrooms. These upgrades were made possible by generous donor support and are part of our ongoing efforts to improve accessibility across the site.

After a short sabbatical, Chef Amber Hokams returned to lead Shaker Village’s culinary experiences in 2022.

At The Trustees’ Table, we welcomed over 62,000 diners to our table. The fried chicken, Shaker Lemon Pie, and tomato celery soup are our guests’ tried and true favorites. If you’re looking for something a little bit different, check out our Fresh Food Adventure Series. Chef Amber Hokams is able to show off her skills and the best of the Shaker Village Farm during these events.  This past year we hosted six of these culinary adventures – and we invite you to join us in January 2023 for the Bourbon Dinner!

With Gratitude…to our Guests, Passholders and Donors

As the year winds down, we are so humbled by the support you’ve shown Shaker Village in a year that has been challenging for all of us. The best part about Shaker Village is that it is nestled in this beautiful rolling hills of the bluegrass.  When you visit, it’s because Shaker Village is your destination and you have made an effort to get here to enjoy the peace and tranquility.

In a year when the market has been unstable and inflation has caused rising gas prices, food costs and more, we know your charitable dollars may be limited. Yet we are celebrating all the things that you helped make possible in 2022. We cannot say thank you enough.

Pleasant Hill is a magical place. When the Shakers settled here in 1805, they had no way of knowing that this site would remain two centuries later.  Thank you for making that happen, and for generously supporting Kentucky’s largest National Historic Landmark.  We are so excited for 2023 and all the possibilities it will bring. 

We will see you in the New Year!