Ohio’s first water trail is scenic and serene

It’s been a relaxing trip until your canoe tips over and you find yourself swimming in the river. If that river isn’t clean you might be getting more than a quiet trip down a lazy river. As Ohio’s first water trail the Kokosing River needs high quality water for those unlucky enough to find themselves floating alongside their canoes.

The Kokosing River in Knox County is picturesque. Sycamore and Catalpa trees hem the sides of the river while riffle areas – regions where water runs low over small rocks – sparkle like a rippled mirror in the sun. The Kokosing River drains parts of Richland, Morrow and Knox counties as it flows southeast as part of the Muskingum watershed.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has designated the Kokosing River a Scenic River to help protect its water quality.

A good indicator of water quality can be found under a rock – a rock sitting in a riffle area, close to the surface and teeming with life. Bob Gable of the Department of Natural Resources says the undersides of these rocks are home to insects and worms known as macro invertebrates. “As biologists, we will sample for macro invertebrates in the stream, and we’ll sample for fish, and based on the different types of macro invertebrates that we find, and the different types of fish, particularly of sensitive species, will tell us how healthy this stream is.” Says Gable. In a large river, riffle areas, and the macro invertebrates that live in them, form the beginning of the food chain. Riffle areas are shallow, so algae growing on the underwater rocks receive ample sunlight. The water is highly oxygenated, which also promotes growth. The invertebrates feed on these algae, and they, in turn, become food for small fish.

Tom Linkous heads the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves for ODNR. He is looking for more than a few, specific species of invertebrates. “The more variety you have on these rocks, the higher quality the stream, basically.” Says Linkous.

In a section of the Kokosing east of Mount Vernon Linkous and Gable turn over a few rocks. The undersides of these rocks reveal an assortment of invertebrates, from mayflies and stone flies to caddis fly larvae. The water quality of the Kokosing looks good.