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Falls of the Ohio

One of the Louisville area’s largest conservation efforts involves protecting the Falls of the Ohio. Located below the 14th Street Bridge at the west end of Riverside Drive in Clarksville, IN, the rocks at the Falls of the Ohio are actually one of the largest exposed fossil coral reefs in the world, with parts dating back some 350 million years.

The Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area was created in 1981 to protect the 220 acres of fossil beds as well as habitat for fish and wildlife and water quality. Falls of the Ohio State Park was established in 1990, and an interpretive center was added in 1994.

Originally, the Falls of the Ohio was a two-mile-long series of rapids that represented a major obstruction to boatmen on the Ohio River. Low water prevented navigation over the rapids and led to the establishment of Louisville as well as New Albany, Clarksville, and Jeffersonville in Indiana.

In 1830, the Louisville & Portland Canal was built on the Kentucky side of the falls, increasing commerce and shipping to the area. Today the McAlpine Locks and Dam, completed in the 1960s, control the flow of water and shipping at the falls.

Quick facts about the Falls of the Ohio:

  • The best time to view the fossil beds on-site is August through October, when the Ohio River is lowest. But you can take a virtual tour anytime.
  • Famous folks who have braved the falls include Gen. George Rogers Clark (founder of Louisville), nature artist John James Audubon, writer Mark Twain, poet Walt Whitman, and explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
  • The low-water passage at the Falls was used by mastodon and other animals in prehistoric times.

KET has produced an Electronic Field Trip to the Falls of the Ohio for classrooms.

Program 122
Homegrown garden expert Jeneen Wiche, chick lit author and mother Beverly Bartlett, the Falls of the Ohio, and the Louisville Sustainability Forum. (#122)