Big Bone Lick Historic Site: A national treasure in our own backyard

Wild Cincy
Posted at 12:00 PM, Jul 18, 2017

UNION, Ky. -- Bison, salt springs, bones, fossils. These are just a few of the things you'll come across while exploring the grounds and museum at Big Bone Lick State Historic Site, located just about 20 miles outside of Cincinnati.

With more than five miles of dog-friendly hiking trails and free admission to the park and museum, there's no excuse not to check out one of the most important scientific and historical sties in the country.

"Even though it's been a state park for a short amount of time, it's been in the history books for hundreds of years," said park interpreter Amelia Hulth.

The area was first discovered in 1739 by French Canadian explorer Charles Le Moyne when he was traveling from Canada down the Mississippi River where he and his party discovered a plethora of large bones. After hearing about these findings, Thomas Jefferson sent famous American explorer William Clark to collect bones for Jefferson's own scientific endeavors in 1803.

Park interpreter Amelia Hulth in front of the Big Bone Lick diorama. Emily Maxwell | WCPO

Some of those discoveries included the skeletal structures of a Harlan's ground sloth, woodland muskox, stag-moose, American mastodon and ancient bison.

"These had never been described to science before so it's very prolific. And that's why our site is known for being the birthplace of American vertebrate palentology, " said Hulth.

Aside from these bones, many of which have been donated or on loan to museums, Big Bone Lick was also famous at one point for it's salt springs. During the Victorian Era, hotels and inns lined the banks of Big Bone Creek where visitors would bathe and drink from the salt springs. The last hotel closed around 1900, but there is still a salt spring visitors can see along the Big Bone Creek Trail.

Today, the park's biggest attraction is its bison exhibit. Wild bison were last seen in Kentucky around the late 1800s, but a herd was reintroduced to the park in 1992. Visitors can walk a trail around the fenced-in bison area. Some weekends the park sees up to more than 500 guests in the bison area.

With its rich history, free admission and parking, live bison heard, museums and more, Big Bone Lick Historic site is a great place to visit whether you're traveling solo, with family or your canine friend. However, if you do find artifacts or fossils on Big Bone Lick premises, be sure to check in with staff and notify them. All findings belong to the park and must be recorded.

Take a video tour below as Hulth talks about her favorite attractions and trails at Big Bone Lick, as well as an upclose look at the bison exhibit.

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