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Contents:
Program 1415

1. bats at Saltpeter Pit
2. the Portland Museum
3. Celtic musician Skip Cleavinger
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Pulaski County

For more information:
Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum, 119 E. Main St., Horse Cave, KY 42749, (270) 786-1466
Bat Conservation International, P.O. Box 162603, Austin, TX 78716, (512) 327-9721

Producer, editor: Charlee Heaton
Videographers: Frank Simkonis, Jason Robinson
Audio: Charlie Bissell, David Dampier, Noel Depp


For the Bats

Saltpeter Pit

In frontier-era Kentucky, bats were big business—indirectly, at least. Their dried guano, found in abundance in the caves where they sleep, provided calcium nitrate that could be treated with wood ashes and then boiled down to produce saltpeter, a chemical vital to the production of gunpowder. More than 130 caves and pits throughout the state have been identified as former saltpeter mines (including an appropriately large-scale operation at Mammoth Cave).

After cheap imported saltpeter killed the industry in the years following the War of 1812, many of those same caves and pits became trash dumps as people started tossing their household discards in with the abandoned mining equipment. But bats also moved back in to some of them. In 2005, an exploration party from Bat Conservation International was surprised to find a colony of several hundred Rafinesque’s big-eared bats, a little-studied species that is classified as rare throughout its range, in a Pulaski County cave known as Saltpeter Pit where the trash pile had reached a height of 45 feet. The discovery inspired a massive volunteer effort to clean up the cave before the accumulated debris blocked the bats’ entrance.

For humans, the only way in to Saltpeter Pit is to rappel down an 80-foot pit. Then the volunteer cavers and bat lovers participating in the cleanup load the trash into bags or hook it onto a rope to be hauled back up to the surface. At the time of our visit in 2007, during the second two-week “season” of the cleanup effort, more than 200 tons of debris had already been removed in this laborious fashion, with the pickings ranging from license plates to large appliances and even a 17-foot boat.

The bats whose home is being cleaned are medium-sized as bats go, only about four inches long but with a wingspan of almost a foot. In addition to the big ears (which reach to the middle of the animal’s back when folded up), they sport extra-long toe hairs. Their preferred food is moths, which they pluck off of foliage by hovering like butterflies. And they usually roost in much smaller groups, so the Pulaski County colony was truly a rare find.

Rafinesque’s big-eared bat is named for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque, a French-born merchant and self-taught naturalist who catalogued hundreds of new species. He taught botany at Transylvania University in Lexington from 1819 to 1826, a tenure that was scientifically productive but personally troubled, marked as it was by frequent arguments with colleagues. When he departed for Philadelphia, he took 40 crates of specimens he had gathered in Kentucky—and left behind, legend says, a curse on the university and those associated with it.

Watch This Story (8:42)




Jefferson County

For more information:
Portland Museum, 2308 Portland Ave., Louisville, KY 40212, (502) 776-7678

Producer: Tom Bickel
Videographer: Warren Mace


A Class Project

the Portland Museum

In 1978, teachers at Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School in the Portland area of Louisville couldn’t find any teaching materials about their own neighborhood, so they and their students created some. The school has since closed, but the classroom exhibit lived on ... and has evolved into a museum that now occupies an elegant 19th-century mansion.

Portland, founded as a separate town in 1811, is located on the Ohio River just downstream from the Falls of the Ohio (and just west of downtown Louisville). It was the point where boats traveling to Cincinnati or Pittsburgh had to stop and unload goods so they could be ported around the rapids, and a departure point for people and cargo headed down to the Mississippi. So its early businesses all revolved around river trade: a busy wharf, warehouses, foundries and shipyards, and taverns where sailors and travelers could find respite from the journey.

The completion of a canal in 1830 ended the necessity for unloading all boats, and for a time Portland tried competing with Louisville for shipping and warehousing business. A railroad deal that was supposed to include a line connecting the two towns’ wharves convinced Portlanders to let the larger city annex their town in 1837. But the railroad line never materialized, and Portland declared its independence again in 1842. It was permanently annexed to Louisville, which by then had grown considerably around it, ten years later.

The Portland Museum celebrates that colorful history and Portland’s river heritage with a collection of historical artifacts and documents as well as multimedia exhibits. Visitors can listen to stories told by an animated mannequin of Captain Mary Millicent Miller, the first woman licensed as a steamboat master in America, or explore the permanent exhibit to learn more about such other famous residents as John James Audubon and Jim Porter, the “Kentucky Giant.” True to its own roots, the museum also offers extensive educational materials and programs, including walking tours of the neighborhood.

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Warren County

For more information:
• See Skip’s MySpace page for tour information, music samples, and more.

Producer, editor: Cheryl Beckley
Videographers: Tony Noel, Mindy Yarberry
Audio: Darius Barati, Jessica Gibbs


Celtic by Choice

bagpiper Skip Cleavinger

During his student days at Western Kentucky University, Skip Cleavinger finally got a chance to visit Scotland. He’d never seen the place and wasn’t actually of Scottish ancestry, but he already knew its rhythms by heart, thanks to a music teacher at a Louisville junior high school who had introduced him to the bagpipes. Skip tried the guitar for a while, but always found himself drawn back to the pipes. So while his peers formed garage rock bands, Skip helped start a group that would evolve into the Louisville Pipe Band.

He also started competing in Celtic music showcases and soon made quite a reputation for himself. Proficient with both the Great Highland bagpipes and the Irish uilleann pipes as well as the tin whistle and other traditional instruments, Skip is now a nationally known Celtic musician. A few years ago, he was able to quit his job as a school psychologist in Warren County and focus on music—although he still combines the two professions in demonstrations and workshops with kids.

Skip has appeared with symphony orchestras and with musicians from Amy Grant to Alison Krauss and is an active session musician in Nashville. He can be heard on CDs by Martina McBride, Michael W. Smith, and many others as well as on several releases of his own.

Watch This Story (7:38)




Campbell County

For more information:
Newport on the Levee, 1 Levee Way, Newport, KY 41071, (866) LEVEEKY (538-3359)


On Location

Dave Shuffett hosts this edition from Newport on the Levee, a shopping and entertainment complex located on the Ohio River adjacent to the Newport Aquarium. Its attractions range from restaurants serving a wide variety of cuisines to the “Ducks”—amphibious vehicles that take visitors on tours of historic sites in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky by both land and water.



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