Making a Difference: Richard Kessler
A Natural Man
To have a show that can go from east to west, north to south, and put on display all the wonderful natural treasures that our state has to offer just made me proud as a citizen of Kentucky.
Richie Kessler – Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund
In late fall in Kentucky, there’s an almost otherworldly quality to the light as it slants across the landscape, vividly illuminating all it touches. The dying leaves set trees aflame in red and gold color, and the diversity of plant and animal life in the Commonwealth is on spectacular display.
This world, in any season, is one that Richie Kessler, Ph.D., a biology professor at Campbellsville University, knows intimately. His passion for conservation biology began early, growing up in Greensburg, as he drank in the abundance of life in the Green River area.
“I grew up surrounded by nature, probably taking that childhood for granted,” said Kessler, who also serves as chair of the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, which provides funding for preserving and conserving important natural areas around the state. For a time, Kessler served as a conservation program director for the Green River—what he calls his “home river”—with the Nature Conservancy.
And today, as he trains new student biologists at the university level, he also assists KET in its mission to explain the state’s biodiversity to a much wider audience via programs such as Kentucky Life.
“Myself, and other biologists and conservationists, we feel like we’re somewhat familiar with what makes Kentucky such a special place,” he said.
“But to have a show that can go from east to west, north to south, and put on display all the wonderful natural treasures that our state has to offer just made me proud as a citizen of Kentucky.”
Kessler has worked with Kentucky Life producers on a number of programs, most notably the special “Kentucky’s Last Great Places.” In it, Kessler and fellow Greensburg native and Kentucky Life host Dave Shuffett explored the unique geography of the Green River area, bringing their enthusiasm for the richness of the place to others.
“Kentucky is the land of rivers—more miles of navigable streams than any state besides Alaska. We’re also a land of caves. That ‘Last Great Places’ segment, I felt like, represented this landscape of south-central Kentucky in a way that I don’t care where you’re from, you’d have to step back and say, ‘Wow, what a special region,’” he said.
It’s particularly gratifying, Kessler said, when KET can showcase a place in Kentucky that is important for many reasons, as it has done in several Kentucky Life segments on Heritage Land Conservation Fund project sites.
“These sites are so varied, and they do cross the breadth of our state’s diversity of places. But they’re also important…not just because they’re neat natural areas, but because they seem to form a nexus where culture, history, and nature intersect.”
One such area is Tebb’s Bend, Kessler said, which features aquatic life found nowhere else in the world, in addition to an abundance of blue heron, eagles, wood ducks, and songbirds. It was also, he notes, an important Civil War site.
“Where else but KET can you turn on the TV and see a program about something so unique to Kentucky that so few people yet know about—and have that information communicated by experts in the field yet be so accessible?” he asked.
“It comes across in such a way,” he added, “that the average citizen can develop a new appreciation for these amazing natural treasures of Kentucky.”