Muskingum River Watershed Fun Facts
Native Americans called the Muskingum River the “Moos-kin-gung,” meaning “elk eye river.” Other reported Native American meanings for Muskingum include “a town or place of residence,” “a town on the river side” and “the glare of an elk’s eye.”
In 1788, the first president of the young United States said the following about Marietta: “No colony in America was ever settled under such favorable auspices as that which has just commenced at the Muskingum. If I was a young man, just preparing to begin the world, or if advanced in life and had a family to make provision for, I know of no country where I should rather fix my habitation.”
Twenty-four Revolutionary War officers are buried in the Mound Cemetery in Marietta—more than in any other United States cemetery.
The Muskingum River is easily the largest river lying wholly within Ohio, and its watershed covers one-fifth of the state. That makes the Muskingum watershed larger than the entire state of New Jersey.
Ten dams are currently located along the main stem of the Muskingum River. This system of dams and locks, built for easier steamboat travel, was one of the earliest slack water systems in the United States.
The lock chambers along the Muskingum River still have their original wooden gates, sandstone walls and most of their hand-operated Equipment. The Muskingum State Parkway near Zanesville was established to preserve and display the locks.
The Muskingum River is no longer used for commercial navigation. The damage from the catastrophic flood of 1913, combined with the growth of roads and railroads, marked the beginning of the end of commercial navigation on the Muskingum River. Today, recreational boaters use the river, with more than 7,000 boats “locking through” the river’s 112-mile navigation system in 2000.
One type of “muskie” found in the Muskingum River area is the muskellunge, a popular sport fish. The Muskie is a solitary fish that stalks its prey and has been compared to a tiger because of its needle-sharp teeth and rows of spots or stripes on its sides. It is a member of the Pike family, a group characterized by duck-billed heads and long, slender bodies. Muskies are popular sport fish because of their size and the tremendous fight they give fishermen.
The other famous "muskie" in the Muskingum area is Big Muskie, the largest dragline ever built, dubbed by some as the “The World’s Largest Earth Moving Machine.” Big Muskie was built by the Bucyrus-Erie company and operated by the Central Ohio Coal Company, an AEP subsidiary, from 1969 to 1991, near Cumberland, Ohio. During its working lifetime, Big Muskie moved more than 483 million tons of rock and soil (twice the earth moved during the construction of the Panama Canal) and uncovered more than 20 million tons of coal. With its 220-cubic-yard, 240-ton bucket, Big Muskie could cut swaths the width of an 8-lane highway. Even more dramatic was its ability to “walk” through use of its powerful hydraulic cylinders. Parked in 1991 due to a drop in demand for high-sulphur Ohio coal, Big Muskie was destroyed in 1999. However, its bucket was preserved and is on display at Miners Memorial Park, located about nine miles east of McConnelsville, Ohio, along Route 78, in AEP’s ReCreation Land.
The Muskingum River watershed is home to many endangered species, including the bald eagle, eastern spadefoot toad and the last remaining Ohio populations of mussels such as the monkeyface shell, fan shell, Ohio pigtoe and butterfly shell.
Freshwater mussels are mollusks that belong to the same group of animals as clams and oysters. Mussels serve an important role in the ecosystem by filtering water and providing food for other wildlife. They are also part of Ohio’s natural heritage. Ohio historically had one of the richest populations of mussels, with some 80 species living in its rivers and streams at one time. The Muskingum itself boasted over 60 species.
Unfortunately, there are not as many species of mussels in the Muskingum River today. Many species are endangered or threatened due to pollution, impoundments caused by dams and past over-harvesting by the commercial mussel industry.
The Ohio commercial mussel industry began in the mid-1870s when a process was developed for manufacturing garment buttons from mussel shells. The U.S. Bureau of Fisheries estimated the annual harvest of mussels from the Muskingum River from 1912-1915 at 700 tons. The development of plastics in the mid-1900s caused the mussel shell button industry to fade, but the cultured pearl industry in Asia brought the harvest of freshwater mussels back to a high. Commercial harvesting of freshwater mussels was banned in 1974 in Ohio.