by Mike Hensley, Green River Project Director for The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky
We spent months planning and thinking about the Green River Summit aimed at gathering people from across the watershed to share ideas and build synergy around protecting one of the state and nation’s most ecologically diverse natural treasures. Finally event arrived on February 20 and 21. It was exciting to finally see how many folks would join us . . . what discussions would take place . . . . whether things would go along swimmingly and without a hitch . . . .
And people DID come! They began trickling in one or two at a time, and then in groups, until the registration area was jam-packed with people already talking about the Green River. It was a really diverse group. We had people from state and Federal wildlife agencies, local farmers and private landowners, representatives from at least six universities, and representatives from a variety of industries.
Then came the formal part of the program. During the plenary sessions, we packed the Mammoth Cave Hotel dining room with about 140 people to listen to the first morning’s speakers. First, Dr. Richie Kessler from Campbellsville University provided an inspirational talk about his unique perspective on the Green River as (1) a biology professor, (2) a conservation professional, (3) a landowner with generational ties to the region, and (4) as a father. After Dr. Kessler, Colonel Landry with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Terry Cook, the Conservancy’s Kentucky State Director, gave a tag-team presentation about the Green River and the value of partnerships in protecting it for people and for nature.
Later that day, participants split up into groups to attend six breakout sessions covering the following topics:
Soil Health, presented by NRCS,
Cave and Karst Best Management Practices, presented by Chris Groves (WKU professor and TNC-KY Board Member),
Eco-tourism Opportunities in the Green River, presented by KY Tourism and the National Park Service,
Innovative Septic Systems, presented by Tetra Tech and KWA
Smart Watershed Planning presented by Professor Brian Lee with UK, and
Infrastructure and Data, presented by partners including the Corps of Engineers, USGS, and NWS
This fun and productive day ended with a special night-time cave tour graciously provided by the Mammoth Cave National Park staff. It felt good to stretch our legs!
The next morning, participants arrived ready for more – breaking into three groups based on geography: the Upper Green River region; the Barren River (a tributary of the Green) region which includes Bowling Green, the largest city within the watershed; and the middle and lower part of the Green River watershed. During these region-based sessions people had a chance to share concerns, brainstorm about opportunities and propose ideas around issues characterizing the landscape.
In a nutshell, our staff could not be more pleased with how the Summit played out! It was well attended by people who really care about the Green River. Attendees asked great questions and shared creativity. The resulting feedback will provide us with valuable guidance as we move forward with conservation projects in the region.
All of this is a big deal because there are a lot of diverse interests in the Green River watershed. In fact, the importance of communicating and building relationships with others having an interest in the watershed served a primary lesson during this two day event. In spite of different perspectives, we learned of many opportunities for working together on projects that maintain the health and economic vitality of this treasured ecological resource.
Learn more about Mike Hensley on our website: http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/kentucky/mike-hensley.xml
Photos Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers