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2008 Kentucky River Kayak Trek


Friday, September 27, 2008


Dam 4 in Frankfort to Steele Branch Ramp (Mile 55)



The Steele Branch Ramp is located in yet another great place on the river alongside some beautiful farmland, and just getting to it on Steele Branch Road was a nice drive as I rolled through the fall foliage down to the river.  In doing so, I also passed by the Kentucky River Campground on the way which was as large as any I’d seen along the river.  There were numerous RV’s, boats and tents set up and it even had the appearance of a neighborhood/park which was quite a hub of activity on my way out at the end of the day.



There to greet me when I reached the ramp was a large brown woolly worm.  It headed straight for me as I stopped to take a picture of it, and it seemed to look up at me as if begging for food!  I looked to make sure I had the correct spelling for this creature, and found out that there’s a Woolly Worm Festival in Beattyville each year!



Once I’d gotten everything down to the water and was putting the gear into the kayak, I realized that I’d forgotten to bring the hand towel which I alternatively use for sun protection and as a way to cool off.  Oh well, I figured I might not need it.  It was cloudy #1, it would be the coolest day yet #2, and my hair is getting long #3 (sorry mom!).


No, I’m not really superstitious, but…  I just might screw something up if I make any changes now.  Besides, shorter hair would make me more aerodynamic, so without the extra hair to slow me down, who knows?  I could misjudge my speed and go straight over a dam!  HA!  Anyway, I’m told that I look better with long hair – especially if it helps cover up part of my face!  Double HA!  At any rate, the locks are about long enough to cover most of my neck now, so there’s some added sun protection there.  I’ll cut it when and if I can finish the trip.


When I got up to dam 4 in Frankfort I was bummed.  There was a little corner (like the tip of an elbow) that I’d not be fully able to see - there were buoys before it that indicated the restricted line.   I could have climbed over the rocks to get to this area, but there were some fishermen there that I didn’t want to pester.  I’ll describe what I could see…


As you look downriver from the dam, the first ½ mile on the left is a rocky ledge above which lies the community of Leestown Terrace.  I believe that the building with the large deck is Jim’s Seafood, a restaurant that I will visit sometime because I like its’ sign.  Old signs like the one Jim’s has give the places that have them a nostalgic feel.  Jim’s building looks newer, but any place with such a sign must be a classic and, therefore, definitely worth patronizing.  I had also noticed on the way in, between Versailles and Frankfort, an old sign for bourbon candy.  This is a Rebecca Ruth candy store worth checking out (, and this particular one looks the same as it might have done 50 years ago.  Nice!


Back to the river...  On the downriver lock side of the Lock and Dam - guess what?  Another area which could be an awesome beach!  The portage from this side would be fairly easy too.  You’d just have to watch your step over some large rocks at the edge, or you could just go further down to a more easily negotiable area and walk around.  On the beach here was another old barge being laid to waste as well as a few other old discarded boats, and as I looked back to the Lock and Dam, the tallest building in downtown Frankfort was visible just over it.


Wafting over the river all this time had been the smell of fermentation along with the hum of machinery, and as you continue on you’ll see the source: the Buffalo Trace Distillery.  It’ll slowly emerge more clearly into view with each paddle stroke as you start downriver from the dam.  This place is amazing to me!  It’s an incredible amalgamation of different building materials and architectural styles from different eras.  In fact, it looks like they’ve added parts and buildings on top of and alongside each other as the distillery has grown.  There are also several pipes from which steam is emerging from this eclectic structure.  It’s something that begs to be seen!



Would you believe that I got the oddest feeling here?  The sight of this factory affected me in a way that I couldn’t at first put my finger on.  I eventually decided that it was a comforting feeling!  Is that WEIRD?  Maybe I was getting drunk on the fumes, but that was the feeling!  I thought that this must be for one of 2 reasons.  I spent a great childhood in Middletown, Ohio which centered on a steel company, but I didn’t think that was it.  We didn’t drive by the plant much – we lived further away from it.


I’ve decided that it was my time in Cleveland, Ohio that it reminded me of.  Cleveland has a lot of factories, and I lived there for quite a while after going to college ( John Carroll University) in an eastern suburb of that city.  In fact, my uncle still lives there, and thinking over these things really made me want to get back and see him - making that trip back will be one of the first things I do when this trek is over.


Just downriver from the distillery there was a lot of construction going on, and I wondered if this was for a park or if this was to further expand the distillery.  The trees by the shoreline were still there, but all the low hanging branches had been cut down.  As you round the left turn here you’ll see more houses just above the Leestown and Jolly Roger Bars.  Leestown is more like a shoal, really, so this area starts rocky and then becomes sandier as you go.  There’s also a private boat ramp here.


It was in this area that I was reminded of another relative.  I’ve decided to dedicate my website to my grandmother because it was she who taught me how to truly appreciate things.  She especially loved nature and animals, and what I saw here were a couple of multicolored mallard ducks.  What one lacked in color, the other one had, so that between them they had just about every color in the

 rainbow represented.  She would have marveled at this!




“I just can’t UNDERSTAND it James!”  She’d say, meaning that she could not comprehend how wonderful the Lord must be to have given us such incredible things in this world.  And she saw His love everywhere too - not only in the animals but in how the trees grow and even in the formations that the clouds make!  Even when her health finally confined her to a chair in her apartment she still had it all in perspective.  This is how I endeavor to appreciate things!


The next 3 miles (64-61) comprise one big “C” curve right, and it’s in the midst of this curve that you’ll get the feeling that the farms have really made a comeback.  In fact, this whole section reminded me a lot of those above Beattyville – and the section from Dam 11 to Red River, in particular.  Opposite the farmland, the hills were receded further back than they seemed to be in that section, but you’ll still have rocky shorelines. 


3 dry incoming streams enter in this stretch from the left.  Petty’s Ripple Branch was almost nonexistent, while Jones Ripple Branch was only slightly more substantial with at least a distinguishable shoal, and Macy’s Branch was at mile 62.5.  Between these last 2 I saw the remnants of a wooden structure which I’m guessing was a pier.  The shad minnows clearly loved it here, as they’d formed more of their fish highway/tapestries which extended for about ½ mile after this point.  I saw them forming these in more than one place today though – they were all over!



The other thing here was that the heron, I’ve noticed, have gotten more and more vocal the further downriver I’ve gotten.  “Mraaaaaaack-ack-ack-ack!”  They’ll protest, as they flee downriver from me only to have to do it again as I scare them off another 100 yards further down. 


At mile 61 the river curves right with the hills on the outside bank and the farmland on the inside...  But is it farmland?  The charts indicate that there may be some summer camps up there.  I’m not sure.  The only evidence I could see of any camps were some concrete steps coming half way down to the river.  At mile 60 the Stony Creek comes in from the left.  I got in about 400 feet.  More shad tapestries around this…


After a straight mile you’ll bend right at mile 59 where the Steamboat Hollow Creek enters on the left, and looking at this curve I took the picture below.  Of interest to me here was how the incoming streams break up the mountain into what looks like different curtains of landscape.  There are 5 here.  The first 2 on the left are part of the same one – I just didn’t get the best camera angle.  You have the sun shining on these 2 for the most part; then you’ve got the second one, a shaded curtain in the middle, followed by another sunny curtain at the end.  The river meanders through this last one on the left and the only one on the right, which is sunny.  Incoming little streams divide the others and, even though they’re so small, it shows their powers of erosion over time.



According to the charts, Steamboat Hollow Creek (the downriver side of it) was supposedly a spot where steamboats were built in the early 19th century, although that’s hard to believe from looking at it now - the area is all farmland with cows grazing on it for the next mile.  I even encountered some of them here just standing in the water at one spot, and the more I think back on this the more concerned I become.  They may have been trapped.  The mud bank was really steep right where they were, and I imagined that with their weight that they may have caused it to break off as they came down to the river.


A confirmation of this occurred when one of the cows, spooked by my presence, frantically tried to get back up on the bank but would just tumble and fall back down into the water.  The more it did this the more the bank crumbled, and once reserved to the fact that it could not get back up the bank, it turned around and just glared at me, stomping its hoof.  There were about a half dozen cows in this predicament.  I hope I’m wrong in my assessment their situation.


A long 2 ½ mile “C” curve left begins at the dry Grindstone Creek between mile 58 and 57, and this would take me all the way back to the ramp at mile 55.  Duvall Branch enters in (also dry) at mile 56.5, and the Kentucky River Campground and its ramp enter in at the shoal for Steele Branch (namesake of the road I wound down on my drive here) just past mile 56.  Steele Branch?  Guess what?  Dry.


Back at the Steele Branch ramp I stopped to think that it was going to be a loooong trip next time.  It’s a 26 mile circuit not counting a couple larger streams entering in (the Elkhorn Creek and Flat Creek) that I’ll need to explore.  I can’t break the trip up because there aren’t any other put-ins in this pool.  The next one I know of is all the way down at mile 31 in the next one.  Thus, I’ll be getting out here at the break of dawn next time.  Lord willin’ and the crik don’t rise I’ll relate that story in a few days!







Take US127 to Steele Branch Road at head west.  Meander down past the campground and just past it take a left into the parking lot for the ramp.