Whether collaborating with farmers to reduce pollution reaching local waterways, hosting a field day for school-age children or pursuing new grant opportunities with unlikely partners, conserving lands and waters throughout the Licking River watershed hinges on finding common ground among diverse stakeholders.
The Conservancy’s most recent collaborative effort in the watershed involved working with the Harrison County Fiscal Court to secure a State and Tribal Wildlife Grant from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife to replace a low head dam with a bridge on one of the river’s tributaries. The project, the first of its kind in Kentucky, returned a portion of the stream to its natural flow, aiding species migration and benefiting a nearby mussel bed harboring the endangered Fanshell mussel. Replacing the dam provides conservation benefits, a safer crossing for motorists and eliminates the need for removing debris after flood events.
The Conservancy also continued working on Townsend Creek, a tributary of the South Fork of the Licking River located in northwestern Bourbon County and covering more than 11,038 acres. Here, the Conservancy continues to successfully implement Best Management Practices (BMP’s) – whether fencing a riparian area or planting forest buffers – to mitigate for heavy sedimentation, pathogens in the water and nutrient overload associated with agriculture and development.
Size: The project area encompasses more than 1.8 million acres, of which about 60% is open agricultural land and 40% is forested.
Location: The project runs along the river from Cave Run Lake Dam to the Ohio River, draining much of northeastern Kentucky between the Kentucky River to the west and the Big Sandy River to the east.
What’s At Stake: Aquatic communities, riparian areas, upland grassy woodlands, bluegrass savanna, oxbow wetlands, large bocks of oak-hickory woodlands and sites containing Shorts goldenrod, a federally endangered species occurring almost exclusively in the Blue Licks area of the watershed. Running Buffalo Clover also makes its home in the region, as well as other interesting plants including rock skullcap, Kentucky lady's-slipper, yellow gentian and a wide variety of native prairie remnants.
The region supports unique fish species including redside dace, mimic shiner, streamline chub, slender madtom, blue sucker, paddlefish, eastern sand, tippecanoe and sharpnose darters. The watershed also supports more than 50 species of mussels, of which 11 are endangered, and provides respite for about 250 species of migratory birds, an unusually high number.
Indiana bats and Gray bats reside in the watershed, as do Henslow's sparrows, bobolinks, and Sharp-shinned hawks. Aside from an abundance of sport fishes, the Licking boasts many native darters and turtles. Black bear can still be sighted in the Daniel Boone National Forest, which occupies the Knobs region.
Threats: Excess nutrients in the water caused by runoff of residual fertilizers, livestock manure, faulty septic systems and other sources. Bacteria in the water from faulty sewer systems. Sediment from farm runoff.
Milestones: Replaced a low head dam with a bridge on a tributary in 2009. Awarded a 319 Clean Water Act grant in 2004 to provide financial and technical assistance to landowners in the Townsend Creek watershed, where the Conservancy has helped implement twenty-three BMP projects and protected more than 37,000 feet of steams and sinkholes.
Action: Educate landowners and the community about the impacts of activities such as row cropping, livestock production, logging and development to reduce threats to wildlife habitat and maintain the river's water quality. Work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to generate interest for the Wetlands Reserve Program, aimed at easing the financial burden to landowners interested in establishing native prairies or riparian zones on private property. Pursue conservation easements with willing landowners.
Partners: Kentucky Division of Water, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Forest Service, Kentucky Division of Forestry, University of Kentucky, Licking River Valley Resources Conservation and Development, private landowners and local governments
Buffalo Trace Preserve
Bridge crossing replaced the low-head dam.
Low-head dam on West Creek in Harrison County.