Kentucky River Water Trail Earns National Recognition
By Stephanie Cole
Student Writer, EKU Public Relations
Across a scenic stretch of the winding Kentucky River, the Kentucky River Water Trail is being saved and improved ... by an artist.
Pat Banks, professional artist, Kentucky Riverkeeper and board member of the Kentucky River Authority, has been busily working to maintain and improve local recreational waterways, alongside husband Dr. Alan Banks, professor and director of Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Appalachian Studies, which sponsors the Riverkeeper as a means to promote place-based research and regional stewardship.
Covering Pool 9, a 19-mile expanse from Valley View Ferry to Fort Boonesborough State Park, the Kentucky River Water Trail project in cooperation with the National Park Service Rivers Trails Conservation Assistance Program recently earned two prestigious honors: the Vision Award from Bluegrass Tomorrow, only given to approximately eight recipients across the state each year, and recognition by the U.S. Department of the Interior as one of the top two projects in the State of Kentucky in President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.
“It is amazing that a small program like ours could receive national recognition,” Ms. Banks said.
A water trail is a recreational waterway on a lake, river or ocean between specific points, containing access points, and/or primitive camping sites for the boating public, and the Kentucky River Water Trail has been adversely affected by many aspects of society.
Ms. Banks explained that “different companies are allowed to dumps hundreds of tons of pollutants into the air every year. These pollutants trickle into the water, where fish absorb the different toxins,” including trace elements of heavy metals such as mercury.
Unbeknownst to most, 95 percent of the United States’ waters are in a fish advisory, according to Ms. Banks. Contaminated fish can cause fetal developmental issues and other developmental issues in children. If a body is exposed to enough toxins, cancer, liver disease and other health problem can arise. The Riverkeeper initiative aims to protect everyone, including women of child-bearing age and children, from different toxins.
“We want a clean river,” Ms. Banks explained. “Everyone uses the river somehow, either for recreation, food, or power. We want to change the way people think about the river; the beliefs, behaviors, and stewardship for it. The Native Americans have a belief called the ‘7th Generation.’ It explains that we have to think ahead for other generations, think about what we are leaving behind for them. Right now, we are not doing that. We want to change that, ” and this has driven the Kentucky Riverkeeper to test waters, advocate the cause, and educate others.
Two documentaries and “Shaped by Water,” an exhibit to promote art activism and watershed awareness, have been created by the program. “We want to get people actively involved,” Dr. Banks said. “Students from EKU had the opportunity to be involved in the recycled-art contest, and we took all the top prizes.”
By using the waterway that many have in common, the project is able to connect different individuals, groups, and counties involved. The Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Association, Adventure Tourism, the Governor’s office, and many others have taken part in the initiative. With combined efforts, the Kentucky Riverkeeper program has been able to achieve much and continue “to articulate a vision for the river and the communities that depend upon it,” according to Dr. Banks.
Published on November 28, 2011