September 25th is World Rivers Day. So I am celebrating for sure. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am unapologetic about my bias towards our rivers here in Kentucky—especially the Green River. But it really isn’t a stretch to recognize that the Green is one of the most unique and diverse on Earth.
150 different fish species and well over 70 species of freshwater mussels find a home in the Green River. In addition to the vibrant array of life within its waters, the Green runs through the very heart of Mammoth Cave National Park, which itself is a World Heritage site and Biosphere Reserve.
One of the things I love about rivers is that they provide a wild, watery trail of sorts—winding across a diverse landscape consisting of private and public lands ranging from pristine wilderness to urban landscapes. In a world that has become a lot smaller and less wild as the human population creeps into the furthest reaches on the planet, it can be hard to find that “frontier experience” of setting out in the natural world. But right here in Kentucky, a wannabe explorer can “gear up” and head out onto one of our many streams or rivers and still have such an adventure.
Many are starting to fully recognize that kind of potential with regard to the Green River. Today, thousands of people canoe and kayak and run other small watercraft in the free-flowing section of river between Green River Lake Dam and Mammoth Cave National Park. But no one can float downstream beyond the park because of the old lock and dams that still exist downstream from the park.
It’s my dream that several of the obsolete lock and dams currently in place on the Green and Barren rivers (downstream from Mammoth Cave) might be removed or breached someday to create one of the longest free-flowing stretches of river in the eastern United States. Then, there will be the potential for many more river-based excursions. That will present economic opportunities for towns up and down the Green River, and outdoor recreation possibilities for residents and visitors alike.
Day dreaming or not, today is a great day to go and explore one of Kentucky’s River. I hope that you enjoy World Rivers Day, and get out on the water!
Mike Hensley is the Green River Project Director for The Nature Conservancy.