May 12, 2004 | By: Aimee Heald-Nielson

Nearly two years ago, elementary, middle school and high school students in Clay County began learning the basics of dry stone masonry so they could complete projects to enhance the landscape of their schools and preserve a heritage skill.

To get the projects started, members of Clay County’s Women In Agriculture group partnered with Lora Lee Howard, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service’s family and consumer sciences agent in Clay County. They realized the lack of dry stone fences in Clay County and the importance of teaching students about a skill that could become a way of life and sustenance for them in the future.

“We work real hard on trying to bring in some alternative employment opportunities for the kids,” said Billie Cornett, teacher at Clay County High School. “A lot of them have never seen the stone walls that occur closer to the Bluegrass (area), although they have been around here for two or three hundred years.  We try to bring in as many job opportunities as we can to at least get the kids to look at it.”

Completed projects include a wall built in a park area at Burning Springs Elementary and a two-sided wall enclosing a landscaped area near Clay County Middle School.

The most recently-completed project is a wall in the shape of a circle at Clay County High School.  It was built near a cabin, also built by students years ago, and an herb garden that showcases native Kentucky herbs.  Students will fill the circle with potting materials and plant native Kentucky flowers and plants within the walls.

“We jumped at the idea to build this because landscaping and building with natural materials is such a growing industry,” Cornett said.  “Also, we run a greenhouse here – it fits in with what we’re doing really well.  So many of our kids like to work outside in the fresh air, this is perfect.”

Most of the students enjoyed the project and some are trying to decide if they want to pursue a career in dry stone masonry after they graduate.

“I never really thought much about doing anything like this before until we did it,” said Bruiser Martin, a Clay County High School junior. “I like being outside and it’s probably what I’m thinking about doing for the rest of my life. I might like to lay rock later on.”

Several students will get the chance to work as apprentices for a dry stone mason this summer to see if they would like to make a career of the process.  The popularity of dry stone masonry is rising, especially in the landscape business.

One thing students can be sure of is knowing their work will be around for many years to come.

“As a matter of fact, we told the youth that worked on this particular project that they would be able to bring their grandchildren back here and say they helped build that stone wall,” Howard said. “It could be here two or three hundred years.”


Writer: Aimee Heald-Nielson, 859-257-4736, ext. 267