Protecting Kentucky’s Wild Rivers

The Kentucky Wild Rivers Act of 1972 designated segments of nine rivers as Wild Rivers. These areas serve to protect the natural attributes of the rivers and surrounding land.

The Division of Water Wild Rivers program helps protect 114 miles of river and 26,382 acres of land. Each Wild River segment encompasses up to 2,000 feet of land on either side of the river.    

Zach Couch, Wild Rivers’ Coordinator, oversees the maintenance of the land surrounding the river segments, which provides habitats for wildlife and use by the public.

The maintenance on the Green River Rush Island Tract was recently conducted.

Two weeks later
Winter Brush
Winter Brush






“Any time you can manage activities that occur in a watershed, you can enhance the biological, botanical and recreational values of that waterway,” said Couch.

Purchases of land are made possible through an award from the Heritage Land Conservation Fund, which is funded from the sale of nature license plates and the collection of unmined mineral taxes and environmental fines.

These funds may be used to purchase natural areas with rare habitats and endangered species; areas important to migratory birds and areas to be preserved in their natural state for public use, outdoor recreation and education.

Some activities within these corridors are strictly prohibited, such as surface mining, clear-cutting of timber and construction of dams or other in-stream disturbances. While existing residential and agricultural use may continue, developments or activities that might impair the river’s water quality or natural condition are regulated through a permit system.

When property owners are willing, the state may purchase lands within the corridor or within the watershed of the Wild River to further protect the waterway. These lands are then subject to the restrictions imposed on the Wild Rivers corridor.

The nine Kentucky rivers with segments designated as Wild Rivers are:

  • Cumberland River
  • Red River
  • Rockcastle River
  • Green River
  • Big South Fork
  • Martin’s Fork
  • Rock Creek
  • Little South
  • Bad Branch

For more information about the Kentucky Wild Rivers program go to or email . For information about the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, contact Zeb Weese at 502-573-3080.