OK. Go on. Get it out of the way. Let the giggles and tee-hees commence. State park names don’t come much funnier than this, and if there’s a better example of a double entendre out there I can’t imagine it.
The park’s somewhat risqué name even inspired a serious high road/low road conversation with myself when I was working on the title. But despite the funny name, this little-known state park in northeastern Kentucky played an interesting role in the early history of the American frontier.
Place names on the frontier were practical, like Beaver Creek or Oak Grove, and Big Bone Lick was no exception. The name’s semantic origins are: “lick” as in an enticing natural salt lick where animals came to supplement their diets; “big bone” as in very large skeletons from pre-historic times. The fossilized remains of Pleistocene mammoths, mastodons, sloths, and bison have all been unearthed at BBL.
These mysterious fossils were important because, thanks to excavations by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, and the sponsorship of President Thomas Jefferson, this isolated location in northeastern Kentucky is the birthplace of American Vertebrate Paleontology. That should taper the tee-hees.
As a display in the small, onsite museum explains:
“Equally as significant as the Big Bone Lick bones themselves, is the role they played in hundreds of years of scientific inquiry and debate. Thousands of bones from numerous small and large-scale expeditions conducted at the lick during the mid-18th through the late 19th centuries were deposited in museums and private collections around the world. Thomas Jefferson dispatched William Clark to collect specimens in one such expedition in 1807, which became the first organized vertebrate paleontology expedition in the United States. Specimens from Big Bone Lick fueled scientific debates in halls of the American Philosophical Society and the Royal Society of London, among others.”
We didn’t stumble upon this little gem of a park by happenstance, but searched it out for a few days of camping. The break was great fun, and as frequently happens while traveling, we discovered another example of intriguing things showing up in surprising places. It’s located about 25 miles south of Cincinnati, Ohio, and the 10 mile detour off the interstate is well worth the effort. Entry to the state park and small museum is free, and as an added bonus, the park has a small herd of bison (including a couple of cute newborns) grazing at the end of a short hiking trail. Just don’t mention the paleontology part to the kids.
James & Terri