Falls of the Ohio State Park

Indiana, Clark County, Clarksville

river mile 605

River access: yes. Tree cover: somewhat open. Impervious surface: none. Landscape design strategy: State Park style. Information about the Ohio River: A lot.

The research team has enjoyed Falls of the Ohio State Park ever since we discovered it, probably more than a decade ago. It’s one of the unique parks in the world. At the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick, Canada, one can stay half a day and watch rivers and harbors drain of water, leaving bleak expanses of pebbles out to the horizon. “See the bottom of the ocean!” the posters say. But it’s just pebbles so it’s really not very interesting. Here you can see the bottom of the river! You can’t do it every day: only in the drier late summer and fall months when the Army Corps of Engineers raises the tainter gates and leaves the vast expanse dry. Then you can see the bottom of the river — and it’s a real treasure! Acres and acres and acres of fossils. It’s the largest exposed Devonian fossil bed in the world. Not tiny fossils, but big fossils. Those little plants you have in your fish tank? Here they are ten times larger! And much older: marine plants and animals from the Devonian and Silurian periods, deposited 350 to 425 million years ago. Bring a picnic, a pail of water and a brush to wipe off the dried mud, your fossil identification book, and your camera. You can use either the Kentucky Geological Survey’s summary or Strumm’s 1964 classic book on the topic, Silurian and Devonian Corals of the Falls of the Ohio. It’s a great way to spend a day!

The rest of the year you will have to satisfy yourself by looking out at a vast expanse of water and admiring the complexity of the locks and dams that control it. The USACE webpage has an aerial photograph that gives a good view. Then it’s the exhibits at the Interpretive Center which are the most interesting. They will give you the background to understand the marvelous fossil plants and sea creatures that are here, and the engineering that makes it possible for you to see them in the fall, and impossible the rest of the year.

This is a day use State Park, so there is no official camping. Too bad! There’s plenty of room so tent campers could enjoy the vista of the river and take advantage of the amenities offered by the Museum. Kayakers could get into and out of the river easily, but they must pay attention to the organization of the locks and dam system here: it’s not a simple line across the river as it is elsewhere. In addition, there is the danger of sudden releases of the Ohio River through the dams. A siren announces it and gives you a couple of minutes to leave.

Strumm 1964 Plate 6

Field research September 2015

Next park: Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Park

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