So what exactly are "The Falls" then if the park is all about prehistoric fossils? Once upon a time, The Falls of the Ohio were a series of small rapids caused by water flowing over ledges of limestone. According to the Falls of the Ohio pamphlet (see I did learn something) the first rapids began in front of what is now downtown Louisville and continued 2.5 miles down river with a drop off of 26 feet. The Falls provided a soothing retreat for those living along the river, but presented an obstacle for river navigation for settlers and merchants. A dam was built in the 1920s to restrict the rapids and ease navigation from Pittsburg (the River's beginning) to New Orleans. Now, several areas in the dam provide a rushing water outlet while the river beyond the dam remains safe for travel.
Last weekend, I saw several fisherman, waders and yes, swimmers near the dam, but after smelling the river water, observing the cloudy, oily, stagnant edges of the Ohio and witnessing the plentiful debris washed ashore, I think you'd have to be crazy to actually get in the water. Like museum etiquette, I told my brood to look, but don't touch.
If you go, I'd recommend early morning for the heat or perhaps wait until fall. Be sure to prepare for the sun and bring a bucket, water, and toothbrush to play paleontologist. There are several areas to climb rocks and witness a decent view under large, shady trees, so be sure to bring suitable shoes for climbing. While the interpretive center isn't necessary to have a good time, it is quiet, informative and clean, and a great place to cool off. The center costs $5 for adults and $2 for kids, but viewing the fossil beds, picnicking, or partaking in the several nearby playgrounds is free.
If you'd like to add Environmentalist to your Paleontologist title, bring a bag and help keep the park clean. I saw several New Castle bottles (good taste for despicable litter-bugs) on the rocks as well as the usual river trash washed ashore.
All-in-all The Falls of the Ohio State Park is an easy, inexpensive, educational adventure that should make it on the summer to-do list. Although I've officially marked if off, I believe we might return real soon.