A Kentucky environmental report once called the Ohio River “virtually an interstate sewer, bearing wastes from Pittsburgh to Paducah” because the river had become convenient dumping ground. But that’s been turned around. Besides looking beautiful, a great example we experienced was the Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
The refuge began in 1990 and consists of 22 islands and three mainland tracts scattered along 362 miles of the Ohio River. Most are in West Virginia; a few are in Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
The only one you can reach by vehicle is Middle Island near St. Marys, West Virginia, so we hiked it. According to what we read, when the pioneers saw the fertile, flat islands covered with huge hickory, sycamore, black walnut and maple trees, they thought about what great farm land it would make once those trees were gone. Considering that the pioneers were trying to survive -- and the wilderness must have seemed endless -- you can hardly blame them. Now, however, the refuge is working to restore the habitat native to the Ohio River area and helping protect 200 species of birds, 100 types of fish, and dozens of mammals that use the islands and nearby water.
|The Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge has a great visitors center near Williamstown, West Virginia in a really out of the way location.|
|The first wild life we saw was this cat who came out of no where and greeted us after we walked to the Ohio River from the Refuge visitors’ center. We also saw a deer and a blue heron.|
|Settlers cleared just about just about everything off the Ohio River islands so they could use the land; the inscription on this Middle Island grave stone gives one example. Besides farming, the land was used for gas and oil extraction.|
|Jim took this photo of the scenery on Middle Island, the only one of the Ohio River Islands you can get to by car. In the background is the bridge from Newport, Ohio to St. Mary's, West Virginia.|