LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- When you look out over the Ohio River from downtown Louisville, you see a life full of industry. It’s busy with barges and cars passing over bridges.
But, you will also see a return of wildlife.
Dennis Pluckebaum's family has been building boats for Ohio River boaters for 86 years. He said he sees lots of eagles soaring along the river these days.
“You really see a lot of eagles now. You go down around Captain’s Quarters and stuff. There’s a couple of eagles’ nests down in that area,” Pluckebaum said.
But there's another type of critter you’ll see in the water every day.
The chill of October may have dropped the river temperatures to 65 degrees, but that doesn’t stop the River Rats from jumping in. They’re a dedicated group of about 20 people who swim in the Ohio nearly every day.
“I’ve been swimming in the river since I moved to Kentucky 30-some odd years ago, and I always tell people it’s one of the most beautiful places to swim here in Kentucky,” Nina Norris, 63, said.
“And you don’t have a third eye yet?” Doug Proffitt joked.
“Not yet. That’s what I tell everybody. Not two heads. No extra toes. I’m all good,” Norris said.
The group believes the old myths of a polluted Ohio River being cesspool are long gone. They reported seeing plenty of wildlife, such as beavers, snakes and turtles during their swims.
“Every day is different. The weather is different. The temperature is different. The current’s different. And that’s what makes it fun,” said realtor John Fischbach. He is training to swim the English Channel.
Safety is required for these swims. That means one person is always kayaking along with the swimmers, and some swimmers have buoys attached to their backs, making them visible to boaters.
In these conditions, goggles are useless. You can't see a thing.
Proffitt joined the River Rats for a 2.8-mile swim in the cold, muddy water. Even at 1.3 mph, the current made a difference from his daily swims in the pool.
They swam around Tow Head Island, near the Big Four Bridge, upstream inside the channel and around the tip into the Ohio River.
The turn into the river is the real thrill. That’s when the current is at your back.
“Going down river is always the most fun because, I mean, you just shoot down. It just takes half the time and you’re like ‘oh man, we’re already here,’” Kevin Coates said.
Everyone agrees, it’s an exhilarating and refreshing challenge swimming in the water that powers our city. It’s a workout with a view and lots of fresh air.