Catlettsburg Refining: A friend to students and wildlife

At the Catlettsburg Refining Savage Branch Wildlife Reserve, children participate in nature-based learning activities like planting flowers and observing frogs at Rock Hill Pond. Photo Courtesy of Catlettsburg Refining

Catlettsburg Refining is located on more than 650 acres in Catlettsburg, Ky., on the bank of the Big Sandy River. Owned by Marathon Petroleum Co., the refinery operations produce gasoline, distillates, asphalt, heavy fuel oil, aromatics, propane, refinery grade propylene and sulfur, which are distributed by pipeline, barge, transport truck and rail. Catlettsburg Refining produces more than 242,000 barrels per day and employs approximately 775 regular and 800 contract workers, making it a large presence in the community.

At the Catlettsburg Refining Savage Branch Wildlife Reserve, children participate in nature-based learning activities like planting flowers and observing frogs at Rock Hill Pond. Photo Courtesy of Catlettsburg Refining

This community-minded refinery became a master member of KY EXCEL, Kentucky’s voluntary environmental leadership program, in 2006. One of its member projects is managing the Catlettsburg Refining Savage Branch Wildlife Reserve nearby. A management plan is in place that is designed to increase biodiversity on the property through the creation of wildlife habitat and monitoring the effects of natural succession. The open field restoration project aims to restore three former pasture fields to native vegetation. Native plantings enhance the diversity of food and cover resources for wildlife.

Since 1994, the wildlife team has maintained a nest box monitoring program, which provides shelter to cavity nesting wildlife on-site and is used as a tool for educational programs. Since receiving the Corporate Lands for Learning certification in 1999, the Catlettsburg team has continued to foster a strong relationship with area schools by offering a variety of educational programs on and off-site. Students are invited to the wildlife reserve where they investigate pond and forest habitats.

A child peeks into a bird box at the wildlife reserve. Photo courtesy of Catlettsburg Refining

On-site lessons are adapted to the visiting group’s needs and encourage students to investigate and observe the world around them. A variety of activities exist, including a scavenger hunt for flora and fauna, a box turtle habitat requirement investigation, web of life activity and an activity booklet on nature’s recyclers and their role in decomposition.

“Our 35-member employee wildlife team annually manages Savage Branch’s entire 360 acres for wildlife habitat,” says Vernon Marcum, who is the health, environmental and safety professional at the refinery.

The economic value of the property to the schools is immeasurable. Students and teachers go to Savage Branch and learn first-hand about nature and the ecosystems.

“Not everyone wanting to do a to manage and may want to start with a butterfly garden at their office complex,” says Marcum. “Working with nature is always a challenge. Being patient with our projects and understanding that replanting is part of the process has been one of our greatest challenges. Resources at the Kentucky Division of Compliance Assistance, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Division of Forestry and Division of Water are available to help.”

In two years, 39 local preschools, elementary and middle schools and adult autistic classes have attended outdoor nature-based learning activities at Savage Branch, totaling 1,819 students. Since 2001, there have been 8,912 recorded visitors to the reserve.

As part of the community outreach efforts, 33 local teachers attended two Project WET (Water Education for Teachers) training classes.

Presentation4“From the members of the refinery management team who continually find ways to support our KY EXCEL programs to the individual employees who volunteer their time to make those programs happen, we are all very proud that our stewardship efforts have resulted in maintaining a master-level membership,” says Marcum. “The KY EXCEL program is the only venue celebrating these types of efforts in Kentucky.”

Being involved in these projects at work has created a ripple effect. Besides being an example of stewardship for the community, Catlettsburg Refining’s employees also participate in various community and environmental programs, while students and teachers who visit Savage Branch gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for their outdoor environment. For more information about the KY EXCEL program, call 800-926-8111, e-mail or visit the website at