Three boat races down the Ohio River are set for September, and registration is now open. But the races are more than just a competition — for Gerry James, they’re an opportunity to show people another side of the river.

James is standing on the public boat dock off River Road. He’s the director of The Explore Kentucky Initiative, one of the sponsors of Riverthon. And he says some people are afraid of the Ohio River. As if on cue, a piece of trash floats downstream.

“Right there, it’s floating,” he pointed. “It’s a plastic bottle.”

Gerry James

Gerry James

Part of The Explore Kentucky Initiative’s mission is to get Kentuckians out of cities and exploring the commonwealth’s natural areas. That includes the Ohio River, which James says has an unfair reputation. When he tells people he spends time on the river…

“The reaction is like, why would you do that?! It’s so dirty. Oh my goodness. I can’t believe…you’re going to come back with three arms or something like that,” he said.

But it’s quiet on the river. There’s also a heron that swoops across our view, and fish jumping in the water. This is the Ohio River James wants people to experience.

Riverthon is coming up in September. The annual event includes three river races of various lengths, open to anyone in a paddle-powered watercraft. “I’m just really excited about it, because it’s a cool way to take back the river,” James said. “It’s like showing people that this is not just, like, a dump. It’s something beautiful.”

Registration is open now.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.