On April 17, Western Kentucky University will be
hosting an event that will serve as the statewide kick-off for
Kentucky’s Earth Day Activities. But the event will not be held
on the WKU campus; rather it will be held in a remote part of Hart
County on the banks of the Green River. Why there?
finalized the purchase of 705 acres, which will henceforth be known
as the Upper Green River Biological Preserve.
Green River basin is one of the most biologically diverse freshwater
aquatic systems in the whole U.S., in fact in the whole world,”
Dr. Ouida Meier, project specialist in the Ogden College of Science
and Engineering and co-director, along with Dr. Scott Grubbs,
for the Preserve.
Dr. Albert Meier, associate professor of
biology, is the director of the Preserve. When he found out that
some land in the Upper Green River Basin might be available for
purchase, he visited the site on one of his frequent weekend
exploration expeditions. He happened upon a neighbor who put him in
touch with the current landowners of the property. After initial
contact was made, what turned into years of discussions and
negotiations followed, ultimately resulting in Western receiving a
$1.2 million grant from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund
Board for the purchase of three tracts of land which span both the
north and south banks of the Green River.
Albert Meier said
that there is not an equivalent location in the world. “There are
seven federally listed endangered species on this site. That means
there are seven of the rarest animals on earth all on one square
These animals include five mussel species, the Mammoth
Cave shrimp—also called the Kentucky cave shrimp, and the grey
“One of the mussel species may well be the rarest animal
on earth,” Albert Meier said. “There have only been two individuals
found in the last 30 years.”
addition to these endangered species, the plants, animals and water
supply of the Mammoth Cave National Park will also benefit from
Western’s purchase of this land, because it will act as a sort of
buffer zone near the already protected land inside the Park.
Collaboration on research projects between Western and the Park are
already underway, and more joint research activities are planned for
Albert Meier said that one such project involves
the establishment of a mussel raising facility on the Preserve. He
explained that these mussels need water specifically from the Green
River to grow and survive.
“Our students will get the
opportunity to participate in that project, and hopefully they’ll be
able to cause these incredibly rare organisms to recover so they are
not in such a tragic state,” said Albert Meier.
project in which Western will be partnering with the Park is the
American chestnut restoration experiment. Albert Meier explained
that the American chestnut was the most abundant tree species in the
eastern U.S. in 1900, and provided much of the food for wildlife. By
the 1930s however, the American chestnut was nearly extinct in the
eastern U.S., having fallen victim to a blight that entered the
country from a Chinese chestnut in about 1904. Nothing was found
that could stop the blight, and no adult trees in the east were
found that had survived it until recently, when an adult American
chestnut, 42 inches in diameter, was discovered in Adair County, Ky.
This lone tree has somehow managed to fight off the blight many
Albert Meier said that Mammoth Cave National Park has
gotten some of the nuts from this tree, and the Upper Green River
Biological Preserve will be the site where these nuts are planted
an attempt to grow new American chestnuts that will be resistant
to the blight.
A similar project will be undertaken at the
Preserve to grow Kentucky butternut trees, also hit by a blight.
This project is in conjunction with researchers from the University
In addition to the research projects mentioned
above, other centers in the Applied Research and Technology Program
and departments in the Ogden College of Science and Engineering, and
most importantly WKU students, will be able to conduct various types
of research at the Preserve.
A structure on the land, known
as the Gardiner house, is also providing research and study
opportunities for faculty and students in the folk studies and
anthropology and archaeology programs. The house is dated between
1803 and 1810.
Gardiner House is an early 19th century Federal style house.
Although small by today's standards, its brickwork and trim indicate
that it was an impressive house for its time and region,” said Dr.
Michael Ann Williams, professor and director of programs in folk
studies and anthropology. “It is one of the only surviving houses
from that era in Hart County.”
A team of graduate students
from Williams’s cultural conservation class has visited the Gardiner
House and has documented its history and architecture. The students
did basic cleanup of the house, and a masonry company, which
specializes in historic work will soon be repairing the damaged
“The house provides hands-on experience for
students interested in historic preservation. We hope that it will
continue to serve as a ‘laboratory’ for students to get professional
experience, while at the same time preserving an important historic
resource,” Williams said.
The Gardiner House is not the only
part of the Preserve in need of cleanup.
“We’ve hauled out
approximately 35 cubic yards of trash so far,” said Albert Meier,
“and we’re not anywhere near being done.”
to the trash pick-up, six of 22 oil wells on the property have
been successfully shut down. If those oil wells leak or spill,
on the animal and plant species, both on the Preserve itself
and in the Mammoth Cave National Park, could be
“We’re really concerned that oil could get into the river
right at the mussel bed where the federally listed endangered mussel
species are sitting,” said Albert Meier.
Efforts to cap the
remaining wells will continue.
Both Albert and Ouida Meier
said that the Upper Green River Biological Preserve is an invaluable
resource for training students in environmental and ecological
“The research and educational and environmental
protection opportunities are very important for this area,” Ouida
She said that another important part of
what makes this project so special is that it will increase the
awareness of citizens of Kentucky about the uniqueness and fragility
of the ecosystems in which they live. She said this will show
first hand how much there is to learn and appreciate about Kentucky's lands.