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Curious Forecastle: What's The Deal With The Festival's Conservation Efforts?

The Forecastle music festival was built around the nexus of art and activism, but founder JK McKnight says he traveled across the world before learning about the importance of environmental activism in his own backyard.

This story was inspired by the following question from Russ for our Curious Forecastle series: “How has the [Forecastle] Foundation made a difference on our local ecology?”

In the early days, before McKnight began his own non-profit to help the environment, the festival’s activism was a term “loosely applied”, McKnight said.

“It really meant all sorts of social justice groups, environmental groups, political groups,” McKnight said.

Before the foundation began, some 40 or 50 different organizations were involved, he said. McKnight saw it was time to consolidate his activism into a united goal, he said. To do that, he reached into his childhood fascination with the natural environment.

Like the Forecastle Festival itself, McKnight dreamed big.

“The Forecastle Foundation’s mission is to protect the world’s natural awesome,” McKnight said. “So what that means is we go around the world and we find the most highly threatened, highly critical, most diverse places and work to preserve those for future generations."

And he did. The foundation has donated more than $400,000 over the past seven years.

The foundation’s first partnership was with the Guayaki Foundation in Marrecas, Brazil. Through the foundation, McKnight helped fund environmental education programs that teach indigenous school children to plant native hardwood trees and learn about agroecology.

After learning about the foundation’s projects, the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust reached out to McKnight.

Up until that point, the Forecastle Foundation hadn’t funded any conservation projects in its own backyard.

“Marc Evans and Greg Abernathy, they sat me down and said ‘JK I know you are focused on these global hot spots but we actually have hot spots here in Kentucky,’” McKnight said. “They really first introduced me to Eastern Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust introduced McKnight to The Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor — a 180,000 acre ridgeline and refuge for nearly 100 rare plant and animal species.
The Forecastle Foundation contributions have helped the lands trust acquire more than 5,000 acres for conservation — most recently including 2,000 acres acquired in October of 2017.

These days the foundation also works with other local partners for conservation efforts along the Floyds Fork and Green River watersheds.

There’s a kind of serendipity linking the foundation’s mission to conserve biodiversity both locally and globally.

Greg Abernathy, the executive director of the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, realized there were migratory birds that spent part of the year in both Kentucky and Southern Brazil — around the Guayaki Foundation.

The Yellow-Billed Cuckoo, Barn Swallow, Common Nighthawk and other species all make annual migrations, nesting in Kentucky and wintering in South America, Abernathy said.

“So the story sort of unfolded and really helps illustrate the interconnectedness of life on the planet.”


This post has been updated. 

Ryan Van Velzer is the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.

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