Saving a ‘world-class river’

Published 10:00 am Friday, May 26, 2023

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The Kentucky River snakes through the commonwealth from which it shares a name for 216 miles from the Appalachian highlands to its confluence with the Ohio River near Carrolton.

Clark County resident Claire Sipple has lived on the river and drank from it her entire life. She believes the river is one of the state’s great treasures.

“It is one of the most beautiful rivers in the world. It is a world-class river and people don’t know about it,” Sipple said.

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Sipple was among many like-minded local residents attending a listening session at Waterfront Bar and Grill on Tuesday at Athens-Boonesboro Road.

The bar and the Kentucky Riverkeepers planned the listening sessions with the National Wildlife Federation. The event featured two chances in which participants could share their concerns about threats to the river.

Jordan Lubtekin is the director of the Ohio River Restoration Program for the National Wildlife Federation. He shared some of the concerns that Clark Countians shared regarding the river.

“I think there are a lot of concerns people have from farm infrastructure to farm runoff to flooding,” Lubtekin said. “Some other problems mentioned were faulty septic systems, legacy contaminants and emerging contaminants. We talked about a lack of access and a lack of agency on the enforcement as well as a lack of research on what we need to do and when.”

According to Lubtekin, the good news is that there “are manageable solutions” to those problems, but more funding is needed “to use them before the problems get worse and are more costly to solve.”

That is why the National Wildlife Federation has hosted over 31 different meetings from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois, to receive community feedback with hopes of getting enough information to submit a plan to Congress to save the Ohio River Watershed.

“If we include the Kentucky River and all the rivers that feed into it in a 14-state region, we have an excellent opportunity to protect the resources to improve our drinking water, public health, economy and way of life,” Lubtekin said.

He complimented Clark County for the turnout and said that much of what he heard had been said throughout the region.

“We have been talking to communities in urban and rural areas alike about what they care about and their concerns. We believe that community input and community priorities should be centered in the plan,” Lubtekin said.

Improving the Ohio and Kentucky rivers would be a boon for the area.

“The river has been important to what is now Clark County for over 200 years, and I think it could be again. Tourism is a large industry. We need to get more people involved and using the natural resources,” Sipple said.

The river’s existence is why she is often appalled when younger people say there is nothing to do in the area.

“I think that when people get on our river and see how beautiful the palisades are, see how clean the water is or catch a fish, whatever it is that you do, it is a beautiful place to be.”

To Sipple, one of the primary reasons that younger Clark Countians don’t give the river much thought is that it is no longer part of their education like it was in the past.

“Education is important. We used to have a lot more educational resources in our schools, and we don’t do that anymore. There used to be a lot of school groups that toured Fort Boonesborough and Lower Howards Creek and they don’t do that anymore,” she said.

However, Sipple remained hopeful for the future of the river due to the large attendance at the event and the existence of organizations like Kentucky Riverkeepers.

A non-profit dedicated to promoting good stewardship of the river, Kentucky Riverkeepers, was represented at the sessions by Pat Banks.

“What happens in our land and water affect each other, and so if we can work together with these other partners, we can restore and reclaim our land and our river,” she said about efforts to improve the waterway.

Banks hopes attendees were inspired by the larger community dedicated to the river.

“I hope that they take away a sense that there are people that care and that is a part of a larger community. We can work together and make these things happen,” Banks said.