Green River: A National Treasure


Kentucky is home to more fresh running water than any state other than Alaska. (So let me take a moment to say: when you visit our lakes and streams, PICK UP YOUR TRASH!)One of those rivers was made famous by John Prine in his song, Paradise, in 1971, when the lyrics said, “Daddy won’t you take me back to Muhlenberg County down by the Green River where Paradise lay….” But Green River is so much more than just words in a great song.

Green River is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the world! It is 384 miles long and flows through a KARST landscape, the limestone of which gives it a green hue, and it has caves that open into the river bottom. Entire teams of horses, wagons and drivers have vanished in the “bottomless areas” of Green River. One such place that this occurred was Hidden River Cave in Horse Cave, Kentucky, where my brother, Mark aka Modo, was born!

Green River is home to more than 150 fish species, more than 70 mussel species, and 43 endemic species (species existing nowhere else in the world; rare and exotic snails, mussels and fish). This includes nine endangered mussel species and endangered freshwater shrimp (the Kentucky cave shrimp). It is a 9,230 square-mile watershed. There are some pretty strange fish in that river, like the gar. An assortment of birds, such as the Little Blue Heron and the Bald Eagle frequent the river to “fish.” Green River gives life to more species of plants and animals than any other Ohio River tributary.

The portion of the Green River that occurs within Mammoth Cave National Park is designated as a Wild River. Green River is one of the best locations in Kentucky to view bald eagles (one man in Campbellsville photographed 14 at once) and contains the only known location in Kentucky for a rare plant species in the pea family.

Russell Creek, in Adair County, Kentucky, is a major contributor to Green River and Native American tools and artifacts have been found along the river.

Muhlenberg County’s, (once the largest coal-producing county in the nation) coal industry depends greatly on access to the river, as does the aluminum industry in Henderson County. The river rises from Kings Mountain, Kentucky, and winds along, fed by multiple streams until it reaches the dam at Green River Lake near Campbellsville. It then continues west and is fed by Little Barren River before entering the Mammoth Cave National Park where it is fed again by the Nolin River. Then continuing westward it is joined by the Barren River. It then takes a more northwesterly turn as it proceeds through western Kentucky. *original photographs taken by Darlene Campbell where Adair County’s Snake Creek empties into Green River.

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