Scouting Kentucky’s Green River, Tourist Traps, Backroads and Other Diversions – Part 2
When I first laid eyes on the Green River, I was filled with wonder. I wondered how the hell I was going to get my canoe into and out of the river.
The Green River is characterized by abnormally steep banks on both sides.
Typically, a river — unless it’s been straightened and dredged — will have a steep bank on one side and a gently sloping bank on the other. Ideally, it will have a gravel bar along the bank to make access even easier. And sherpas to shlep your gear up the bank, pitch your tent and make you dinner. But that’s not happening either.
I won’t go into detail about the forces of nature that caused the Green River to have steep banks on both sides other than to say that these were the same forces of nature that created 400 miles of caves beneath it. That’s 400 miles and counting. It is believed there could be another 600 miles of interconnected caves yet to be discovered.
Frankly, when I set out on a three-day trip through Mammoth Cave National Park, I didn’t worry all that much about getting my canoe and equipment out of the river. I’m retired and time is not an issue. Once on the river, I figured I could keep on paddling until I died of old age or came to an ocean, where I could land on a beach.
Getting onto the river was a breeze, thanks to the ingenuity — and apparently unlimited funds — of the folks at the U.S. Department of the Interior. At Dennison Ferry at the east end of the park, they have devised and built a two-tiered concrete stairway descending into the river. In the middle of the wide staircase is a wooden chute for sliding your boat down to the river.
Don’t let the name fool you; there is no ferry at Dennison Ferry. At one time, there was — along with about seven other ferries operating along the stretch of river that runs through the park. But that was back in the day when it was still farmland. The park wasn’t established until 1941. There are two operating ferries left, Houchin Ferry (my takeout point at the west end of the park) and Green River Ferry. There is no charge to use either one.
On average, the Green River is 200 feet wide and 10 feet deep. I was told that, in the summer, it can get down to three feet deep. Even at that level, that’s about two feet, nine inches deeper than the rivers I’m used to paddling in Ohio.
Twenty-six miles of the Green River lie within the park boundaries. Overall, it’s 384 miles long, ultimately flowing into the Ohio River at Evansville, Ind.
The current averages five miles an hour. But you won’t. At least not in the spring. I paddled alone, but headwinds were my constant companion. This made it much easier to make 20 miles of river last three days.
There is no shortage of wildlife along the Green River, but you’ll be hard-pressed to see any of it. The critters manage to lay low when you’re around or skedaddle with the slightest provocation, so spotting them can be a challenge. Later I would find that the best way to view wildlife is to drive the park roads. Deer, turkeys and other creatures seem to be repelled by human presence, yet attracted to cars.
Turtles proved to be an exception to the rule. It seems you couldn’t swing a frog by its hind legs without hitting one.
Paddlers can camp free of charge on the floodplain or islands inside the 52,000-acre park. A backcountry permit is required. That, too, is free. All you have to do to get one is answer a few simple questions. Such as “What is your name?” And “Who should we notify in case you’re eaten by a mountain lion?”
The camping permit comes with stipulations. You’re suppose to camp within 100 feet of the river, but not poop within 100 feet of it. I get that. What I don’t understand is the stipulation that you’re not allowed to camp within a half-mile of the ferries. Why on earth would anyone travel all the way to Kentucky to camp in the wilderness and do so within earshot of motorized traffic?
Although camping on a floodplain doesn’t sound appealing, I found it preferable to camping on the islands — which are plentiful and large. The heads of the islands serve as catch-alls for debris — natural and man-made. Furthermore, the terrain rivals the surface of the moon. However, I did explore the foot of one island and found plenty of level ground and lush vegetation.
On both nights, I camped on the banks. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better site than the one I found the second night.
Next: Exploring Caves