Kentucky State University’s free educational boat tours are back.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded vessel has resumed its usual June through October operations after mechanical troubles cut short its 2017 season.

Passengers — many from Owen County on Wednesday afternoon — are treated to tales of Frankfort’s many ties to the Kentucky River, from the city’s original name, “Franks Ford,” in honor of Stephen Frank, who was killed in the area by Native Americans in 1780, to modern-day problems of stormwater runoff and riverbank erosion.

KSU Watershed Research and Extension Associate Ed Wilcox, the official boat guide and unofficial Frankfort ambassador, says he interprets his educational mission to include anything that would fall under youth organization 4-H, which is similarly funded through the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

On Wednesday, that meant tidbits on not only how much water Frankfort draws from the Kentucky River daily (8.2 million gallons) and where limestone cliffs get their calcium (the skeletons and shells of ancient marine organisms), but also stories of Daniel Boone’s purported grave site in Frankfort and of the state Capitol complex just visible from the river (civics is part of 4-H’s mission, too, says Wilcox.)

“I had heard about it, but didn’t realize it was free,” said Owen County resident Evelyn House after the tour. “It was awesome.”

“It gives a new perspective instead of coming down the main road every day,” said her friend Brenda Richardson of traveling down the river.

Tours with students are typically geared more toward water quality, said Wilcox, noting that Frankfort’s numerous livestock operations and combined stormwater and sewage system can lead to significant water pollution following a rainstorm. He says he’s currently developing other cruise curricula, including one that uses river bottom-dwellers called benthic macroinvertebrates as indicators of water quality.

Fellow Owen County resident Linda New, who arranged for her bereavement group to reserve the educational boat tour on Wednesday, wondered if Frankfort residents appreciated the program.

“That’s the sad thing. I don’t think they do appreciate it,” said New, who has fond memories of cruising up the Kentucky River to distant waterways.

KSU’s 90-minute cruises, which are not advertised online, leave from River View Park at 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as well as the third Saturday of every month, said Wilcox. Reservations, made by calling (502) 597-6421 at least three days in advance, are required. The boat seats 45 passengers, said Wilcox.

This article has been modified to clarify that reservations are required.

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