Thursday, September 17, 2015

For series, reporter travels 300 miles by canoe to get firsthand feel of impact of Ohio River tributary

The Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism has published a series on the challenges of the Licking River, a 303-mile tributary of the Ohio River in Northern and Eastern Kentucky and Central Ohio. For the series, reporter Andy Mead and a guide traveled the waters in an aluminum canoe to experience "the good, the bad, the ugly and the spectacular of a river that runs through nearly every culture, geography, economy, environment and society known to its home state. (Mead photo: The upper Licking River cuts a winding path through rocky, wooded terrains as it spills out of Eastern Kentucky on a 300-mile journey to the Ohio River)

"Along the way Mead talked to dozens of experts—from ecologists, scientists and environmentalists to historians, farmers and fisherman—and met dozens of real Kentuckians whose lives are entwined with the river," he reports.

While Mead saw plenty of wildlife, he writes, "We saw too much trash: motor oil bottles, hair spray cans, milk jugs, glass jars with lids (that made them buoyant), broken coolers, a motorcycle helmet, a soccer goal. The single most-common trashy item was the plastic soft drink bottle. Most of them probably had been tossed out of a car or truck window into a roadside ditch before being washed into a creek and then the river. There was a smaller but significant number of old refrigerators, washing machines and other discarded appliances. And tires, tires, tires. We should have kept a running count of tires."

The Licking River, which supports fishing and other tourist activities in Kentucky and Ohio, got its name "because the salty water left deposits that attracted animals as far back as when wooly mammoths and ground sloths roamed the land more than 10,000 years ago," Mead writes. "Marc Hult, a retired U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who lives beside the Licking, said that’s because the river is fed by groundwater that was an ocean 450 million years ago."

"In 1807, President Thomas Jefferson sent Gen. William Clark to collect prehistoric animal bones from what now is Big Bone Lick State Park. The mission has been called the first paleontological expedition financed by the young government of the U.S.," Mead writes.

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