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2008 Kentucky River Kayak Trek


Monday, September 15, 2008


Dam 6 to Bailey Run (Mile 84.5)




[Hi.  I noticed that I've been getting a lot of hits on this particular page from people who are looking up Camp Otonka on the web, and the thought occurred to me that if I could possibly be of any assistance to people who attended this camp who would like to "catch up' or relive memories of the camp that I would be willing to do so.  I'm open to ideas, so please let me know if you'd like to see something like this.  Maybe I could figure out how to set up a separate blog page on this website for Camp Otonka or something like that.  Again, let me know if I can help.  My email address is on the "Who I Am" page.  James 10/10/09]



I’d been looking forward to this.  For quite a while I had wondered exactly where this spot was.  One fall my parents came to visit, and we went out to take a tour of the Wild Turkey Distillery just on the south side of the Blackburn Memorial Bridge which connects Woodford and Anderson counties between Versailles and Lawrenceburg. 


I remembered being particularly struck by how amazing this bridge looked and by what a beautiful spot it was in.  The bridge makes an “S” curve over the river and on the south side you can see the distillery up on a hill.  It’s really quite an impressive view and it may be my favorite of the entire river.



When I made my voyage last year I decided to keep the suspense going as to where this spot actually was on the river until I had paddled down to this point.  When that trip ended prematurely though, I decided to just look this spot up on the map to see exactly where it was.  I thought it would be somewhere between dams 9 and 7, but it’s not.  It’s just above dam 5 near the only public boat ramp in this pool in Tyrone, Kentucky


The navigation charts indicate that there are 2 public ramps at about this same spot, but the one that was called Onan’s is no longer open.  In fact, it doesn’t look to have been used for least a decade.  Fint’s is the one that is open.  I was informed though, that Mr. Fint had passed away a couple years ago and that this ramp was now run by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.  They’ve got it nicely paved and well maintained.


At first I missed the ramp while driving in.  At the time I still thought there were 2 ramps and that it would be easy to find at least one of them.  There had been a ramp sign at the conjunction of US62 and KY1510, but there wasn’t one when I got right down to the location (turns out that access to it is right after the bridge past the quarry). 


Thus, I continued driving right past it until I was on a very narrow gravel road winding around the ravine for Wildcat Branch.  This was clearly not the way to go!  I eventually found a dubious spot to turn around and nearly got stuck a couple times as I did so. 


When I came back out I saw a guy at a house on the side of the road.  I stopped and asked him where the ramp was and he pointed straight ahead.  It was right in front of me!  It was so obvious that I felt like a real dunce!  It turned out that he needed my help too though - I gave him a jump start for his pickup.  


Anyway, when I finally got down to the ramp, two white geese and a darker one with red around the nose and eyes were there to greet me.  They were apparently used to people feeding them and drifted close.  Alas, I did not have anything suitable to give them.  Would geese eat trail mix?   Deciding that they probably wouldn’t I started upriver to dam 6.  It was pretty dark with all the clouds, and while the rain would hold off for the day, these clouds did have me wondering if I’d caught in it.


Once on the water and on my way up to dam 6, I noticed a couple things.  There were more houses with boat docks than I had initially guessed and there were quite a few boat ramps as well.  There was also a tree which was bowed way over the water which had a little American flag attached to it.



Just as I was nearing the dam I heard quite a bit of rustling in a patch of vegetation to my right.  I had startled something and it was trying to get away, but it couldn’t seem to free itself quite quickly enough. 


What it turned out to be was a beaver, and when it finally emerged, exasperated, from its ordeal I got an indignant glare at having caused it all this effort!  Having expressed its contempt it swam away.  This was only the second beaver I had seen on the trek so far.


Arriving at mile 96 I noticed that from this side too, dam 6 looks a lot like dam 7 without the hydroelectric plant.  There was a large shoal on the left looking downriver which contained lots of little shells and there was a beach on the right.  As mentioned in the last journal, however, there were large rocks which formed a barrier preventing you from getting too close to the dam on this downriver side.



The lock was concreted over (guess this one is forever closed) and there were 2 very large wood and iron gates which had been discarded and left to rot on the lock beach.   As far as a portage, this would be a fairly easy walk up or down for a paddler with boat and gear.  You’d just have to negotiate the rocks and the grade – and maybe one of the downed gates, too, if you choose to go this route.



I realized as I started paddling back downriver that the palisades may be transitioning out.  In the last pool they cropped in at points, but for the most part you could only see them if you peered back through the trees.  In this pool you don’t really see them at all unless you peer through and sometimes not even then.  To maximize palisade visibility then, I'm guessing that you’d need to come out here in the late fall or early winter to see most of them. 


That being said, this section would turn out to be the most diverse as far as shoreline scenery that I could remember.  In fact, I’ll not bore the reader by describing the changes which seem to take place every couple hundred yards.  Suffice it to say that the forested hills switch sides at just about every curve of the river and that everything else is almost constantly in transition.


The first mile and a quarter down from the dam is more or less straight with a dry Sercy Branch entering from the right in the middle of this stretch.  The Clear Creek then enters from the outside of the first curve (a fairly sharp left one).  I got in about 500 feet.  This stream has cut through a little palisade - which you can see - up on the left as you enter, and it’s another really pleasant one.



There are a couple getaways atop the ridgeline for this on the upstream left side, and once you turn around and are able to see it, there’s another house with a nice river overlook atop the hill on the downriver right side.  I'd missed it going upriver on my way to the dam.  (I also just noticed in looking at the charts now - I’m composing this on Tuesday, the 16th - that there’s a stone dike here at the mouth of Clear Creek!  I didn’t notice this on the map yesterday and I didn’t see any sign of it while I was on the water.  All I saw was a shoal for the creek.)


I’ll mention something here which I don’t think I’ve mentioned before in regard to tree roots - it amazes me how adaptable trees are!  They’ll continue to grow even if a whole side of their root system is basically useless.  You’ll constantly see these root systems thus revealed all along the banks of the river, just as they are in this creek.




At mile 94 was the Y.W.C.A. Camp Otonka.  I can’t find any more information on this but you can just manage to see some wooden structures for it through a clearing on the riverbank made by a little shoal.  There may also have once been a ramp coming down to the river over this shoal from the camp.  There was no sign of activity though, other than the sound of a tractor at work.


From this point to mile 92 was one 180 degree curve right and in the center at mile 93 there were quite a few houses.  I’m not aware if this is a named community or just a collection of homes, but they're on both sides of the river here, and I couldn’t recall houses being at the shoreline on both sides in quite a while – not since Irvine.  Usually they’ll be present on one side and then another.


Anyway, some of these particular dwellings on the right side have steps which come down the hill to the river over the rocks.  One house, in particular, had a really nice set with rocks placed for steps and an iron rail descending along with them on one side all the way down to the river.  There was a private paved boat ramp here too.


A couple other things on this curve:  rope swings and ducks.  Entering and exiting this curve there were 2 nice swings.  The one on the exit looked brand new, but both were really nicely done. 


The ducks were funny.  I saw a couple or three varieties here and some were in a group playing.  One of them would start by flapping its wings and then it would dive under the water.  The others would follow and when they emerged they’d fly – just skimming over the water – chasing each other and quacking all the while.  Then they’d settle down for a period and it would start up again.  It was quite fun to watch!


There was another house overlooking the river at mile 91 at the tip of Lilliards Bend above Lilliards Bar on the right – the Lilliard residence? 


At mile 90 on the left was a place called Dowling Camp.  I’ve got to admit to being clueless on this – I simply don’t know if this was an old camp like Otonka or if this was (or is) a community.  I will say though, that this place has some of the coolest looking houses on the river.  There are some really elaborate setups here.  They’ve also got another private boat ramp.


At mile 89.5 the Gilbert Creek enters just after it’s merged with Clay Lick Creek a little bit further up.  I couldn’t get in far, but it was an endearing spot with a heron hanging out with what looked like some geese or ducks.  They were black and white with red around the eyes and nose.  I hadn’t seen this kind before, but there were quite a lot of them in this pool.  There was also a canoe back into this creek which I was happy to see.  It’s always nice to be reminded that there are other paddlers on the river.


Across from this creek was a house that had some more intriguing steps leading down to the river.  A lot of time had been put into these, although it didn’t look like they were being used anymore - they were so covered in foliage that you’d almost miss them.  They were stone steps with rock walls on either side of them a few feet tall.  Like the others I mentioned before, these didn’t go straight down - they wound down, which added to the effect.  Very classy.


Next on the same side the charts indicate “Summer Cottages”.  I could see a couple houses here and it looked like they used to have a ramp which had been dismantled - I could see the concrete in a pile above what could have been the ramp grade. 


There was a newer paved ramp on the other side of Craig's Creek though (maybe that was what they were using now), and at the bottom of this was a rusted out hulk of old machinery of a kind I couldn't determine. The creek (Craig's) entered close to mile 89, by the way, but I couldn’t get into it at all.  It was too shallow.  Interestingly, there's a creek of the same name which drains into  Laurel Lake - this guy Craig must have been a popular fellow! 


In the distance at this point, you’ll hear traffic and that’ll be the bridge for the Bluegrass Parkway.  It’s painted blue underneath although you wouldn’t know it from driving over.  Nice – bluegrass blue!  There are actually 2 bridges – one for each direction.  The road for these has been cut through to form a palisade. 


It looked like there was some really lush land underneath and following after this on the left side to about mile 88.  It made for a nice picture with the sun shining down on the landing visible through the trees (sorry the darned picture turned out blurred!).




At mile 88 on the opposite bank was, yes, yet another private paved boat ramp!  I think that’s 6 now including Fint’s and Onan’s, and in between mile 88 and 87 something very strange happened.  At first I saw 3 medium sized downed tree limbs protruding above the water.  Then they moved!  Then they made noise!  I squinted to get a better look as the sun was still hiding amidst the clouds and the trees were partially shading the water.  It was about 6PM


As I struggled to decipher what the heck was going on, I finally made out that the shapes were definitely too round to be tree limbs.  They ducked under the water!  Dag!  What in the world was I looking at?!?  I HAD to know…  They popped up again at a few more points as I continued my paddle downriver. 

My first instinct was the fear of the unknown as my brain struggled to process this information, but I eventually realized that they must be otters.  They were fishing for the minnows and were probably having quite a bit of success too! 


The only other time I’d seen an otter was from above the bridge over the south fork of the Licking River in Cynthiana.  I guess that since I hadn’t seen them at all on this trip that I’d put them out of my mind.  There are supposed to be a lot of them out here though, and I was glad to have finally seen some.  I’ll try to be more prepared and get a picture of them next time.  Bear Branch was only a couple feet wide on the left at mile 87.


Mile 86 to 84 was one long, slow curve left (I’d be getting out at mile 84.5), and it was at the start of this curve I met a nice fisherman.  He confirmed quite a few things for me.  Onan’s ramp had been closed a decade and all the ramps besides the one I came in on are private.  He also told me about Mr. Fint and that he was a commercial fisherman on the river who operated the ramp.  Finally, and possibly most important, the minnows I’ve been seeing are shad.  That’s what the man back in Oregon had said too.  I’m going with these guys!  The fishermen know what they’re talking about, and it’s always nice to meet one who is willing to talk to me.


At mile 85.5 Grier’s Branch enters on the right and the Wildcat Branch came in on the left.  Wildcat was the site of the famous Shryock’s Ferry used by John Hunt Morgan and his troops.  Neither of these streams was navigable though due to shallow water, but Grier’s Branch was the larger of the 2 at several feet wide.


After these, the Versailles water intake is at mile 85 on the right, while the old Onan’s ramp was still visible on the left.  There was a structure at the water intake which intrigued me.  It was an old stone structure which may have been the original intake, and it looked strangely familiar...  It appeared to be 6 sided with spots for windows on the river side.  I’ll need to reach back into my older journals to see, but I think I saw something like this above dam 14 in Heidelberg through the trees... 


OK.  Looking at the journal for that trip and at the pictures, I see that that one was made of brick.  This one was made of stone.  Nevertheless, I wonder if the structure I saw back in Heidelberg was part of an old water intake?  If anyone can confirm or deny this, I’d appreciate it.


When I finally arrived back at the ramp in Tyrone there were 2 people there; an older couple feeding the geese.  I didn’t want to bother them, but their car was parked exactly where I’d have to park in order to have a level spot upon which to put my boat on top of my car (otherwise it'll slide right off!). 


I paddled toward the far side of the ramp, then to the other side trying not to disturb the geese for them but it was no use - they swam away anyway.  It looked like this couple had a real nice meal for them, but they said the animals would only eat the bread.  It appeared that they had laid out an entire pot of stew, poured in equal amounts on either side of the ramp.  Now, I assumed that this was the leftover portion of a meal, but it was still such a giving gesture that I was quite moved by it. 


I had kind of expected them to stay for a little bit and I would have been happy at that point to have carried my boat all the way up if it meant that they could enjoy a little more time here.  In fact, I would have been quite honored to have conversed with them for a while too, but they headed out before I could think of anything to say.  I felt for this couple and hoped that they had a nice family at home that appreciated them. 


On the drive out I took some more pictures of the distillery and of the bridge.  Snapping the bridge is pretty hazardous though.  There’s no room for pedestrians on it and not really anyplace to park a car just before entering or exiting, so what I had to do was slow to a near stop in the middle of it to get a picture (I made sure there were no cars remotely visible behind me as I did this though)!  I don’t recommend this, but I was too taken with the scene to do anything less.  Maybe in time I’ll discover a nice overlook from which an even better picture may be taken.


My next trip on the river will be quite short unless I can port dam 5.  I’ll make a concerted effort to do so that I might be able to break up the next pool.  Otherwise, what I’m looking at is a 2.5 mile trip next time, a 12 mile the next and then a 3 miler (doubled for the circuit routes).  If I could port the dam I could get 3 days into 2.  I’ll try it, although it’s supposed to be the most difficult lock to climb from the water.  We’ll see…




US62 to KY1510 and go south to Tyrone.  It’s the same turn as the one for the Wild Turkey Distillery.  After you pass the quarry on the left there will be a bridge.  Take a left immediately after the bridge and that will lead to the boat ramp.