Rockcastle River

Kentucky Waterways Alliance began working in the watershed in 2010 with Program Director Jim Hays. We have partnered with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, KY Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, University of Louisville Streams Program. In July 2019, KWA joined with a group of partners to form the Rockcastle Conservation Initiative.

Here is more information about our past work in the watershed

Here is a description of the watershed from the Rockcastle Conservation Initiative:

The Rockcastle River is a sparkling gem, even in a state with abundant natural beauty and diverse
natural resources. As the river and its tributaries cut through the sandstones and limestones of
the Cumberland Plateau, they carved a beautiful landscape including breathtaking gorges, lush
coves, and scenic vistas. Much of the basin is riddled with caves, which provide pure groundwater
and a breath of cool air on a hot day.

This landscape supports a diverse array of plants and animals, some of which are found nowhere else
on Earth. Historically, the basin’s streams were home to about 65 fish species, 38 mussel species,
and 10 crayfish species. Notable terrestrial animals include globally important bat populations,
rare amphibians and reptiles, and black bears. The plant flora is among the richest in temperate
latitudes and includes many medicinally valuable or rare species. For example, several plant
species are unique to the gravel and cobble bars along the lower Rockcastle River.

The basin encompasses 488,614 acres in Clay, Jackson, Laurel, Pulaski, and Rockcastle counties, and
represents the US Geological Survey 8-digit Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) 05130102. About 64% of the
basin is forested, 27% is in hay/pasture, <5% is developed land, and <1% is in row crops. The
beauty of the area draws many visitors, who pursue recreational opportunities such as hiking,
bicycling, fishing, and boating, and its streams and groundwater provide drinking water for many

The Rockcastle River basin is an important conservation opportunity for the following reasons.
• The region’s high natural diversity is threatened by a wide variety of human activities. For
example, the basin’s mussel fauna is critically imperiled, and several species have already
disappeared from the basin. A large number of threatened and endangered plants and animals occur in
the basin, which provides a clear impetus for conservation efforts.
• The basin represents the largest intact stream network in the Cumberland River system, which
harbors one of North America’s most diverse and unique aquatic communities. Most of the Cumberland
River and its major tributaries are dammed, which eliminated many native species. Nearly all of the
streams in the Rockcastle basin are free-flowing and interconnected, which provides a rare
opportunity to protect and reestablish self-sustaining ecological communities. Conservation actions
focused on terrestrial habitats will benefit the streams that drain them, and vice versa.
• About 26% of the basin is already protected (115,815 acres in the Daniel Boone National
Forest, and 9,042 acres in other conservation lands). These lands provide a critical starting point
which to build future conservation efforts.

• Protection and enhancement of natural resources and recreational opportunities will have
economic benefits for this region.

The importance of the basin and its natural resources is already recognized by a large number of
entities, including local communities, state and federal agencies, non-governmental conservation
organizations, and other stakeholders. These entities devote substantial effort to conservation in
basin, but these efforts often are uncoordinated.