Morris Ferry Landing Final

Morris Ferry Dock
Morris Ferry Dock

This’ll probably be my last post about Morris Ferry Landing until the United States Air Force contracts with the relative of a hack careerist retired to a lucrative consultancy to build condos on the site in order to sell same to executives of some of the aerospace and other firms doing business as contractors at Arnold Engineering and Development Center. Well, that’s speculative. If things turn out differently, I’ll report that, too, if I wind up knowing about it. Like most Americans, I want to believe that hack careerists of the sort I’ve described end their careers with demotions or shunted into positions that declare their dishonor and inadequacy to the discerning observer.

I hurried through a two sandwich lunch after church Sunday, that is, yesterday, strapped down the kayak (I’d already set it atop Thursday, the silver 850, Saturday night after loading my gear in the trunk). Changed into polypro, and drove out to Old Brick Church boat ramp. On the water by 2:30, my stupid should immediately began to hurt. The big lunch sat uneasy in my distended-feeling gut as I tried to concentrate on paddle cant, torso rotation, and legwork to reduce shoulder strain. The wind was sort of at my back as I paddled past the Island of the Birds, a trick of that wind sparing my olfactory the rookery’s smell.

Not many boats on the water Sunday afternoon. To my right I could see what looked like an inflatable city at the base’s enlisted recreational beach. I paddled left toward the causeway for a last look at Morris Ferry Landing before it enters the past tomorrow, 9/30/08.

The former vacation colony was now mostly bare hillside and waterfront. The docks remained. I some camper trailers about three lots up the hill from the water’s edge. I could hear power tools being used somewhere out of site. The rustic covered boat slips were just about completely empty. All the larger, permanent trailers were gone.

Beech Point - Morris Ferry Landing
Beech Point – Morris Ferry Landing
The site has been mostly cleared of the vintage mobile-home-and-frame vacation dachas

The site has been mostly cleared of the vintage mobile-home-and-frame vacation dachas

Rustic slips empty now

Rustic slips empty now

Red-fly Coleman dome tent

Someone had pitched a beige, red-fly Coleman dome-tent adjacent the cafe/store. No boats were tied up at the dock. Most of the travel trailers that’d been near the bathrooms were gone. The small trailer with sign advertising some small construction business was still there. Someone had the engine-covers up and appeared to be working in the bilge of the big houseboat across from the fuel dock. IV, Lynda, and Isaac Hill’s vacation cottage had been reduced to a pile of structural timber, insulation, splinters, and one very old camper trailer. IV and another man were working to complete demolition. Hardware had been moved to one side. Nowhere really to burn the debris.

IV Hill standing near the wreckage of his family's former vacation home on the bank at Woods Reservoir across the fork from Morris Ferry Dock
IV Hill standing near the wreckage of his family’s vacation home – Morris Ferry Landing, Woods Reservoir, 9/28/08

IV Hill said he wished the Air Force had had the courage to tell the residents plainly why they have chosen to close Morris Ferry Landing. “We’re all grownups,” he said, “It is their land, so there’s no reason why they shouldn’t just say what they have in mind.” Tearing down the cottage has been emotional for him, he said. He remembered holidays at the site as a child, then the summers with his own wife and son. “We’ll find a way to come back,” he said, “even if we just bring our boat on a weekend.”

I paddled out and to my right, near where I photographed the red bucket tractor a couple of weeks ago. A couple of guys who looked like they were repairing something on a pontoon boat asked if I was having any luck. Not fishing, just paddling, I said. Working, not fishing, one of them replied.

I saw a tree with pods that’ve dried – gone to seed – as I paddled beside the causeway on the AEDC side of the lake.

On the way back to my put in, I met a couple of women paddling bright yellow sit on top kayaks. Audrey and Shawn, I think they said, were their names. At the boat ramp, a couple’d brought their beagle to the water. The happy yearling walked right in, then strained against the leash to get a closer look at the kayak on the grass, near my car.

Morris Ferry Dock, Woods Reservoir, Labor Day 2008

Morris Ferry Dock, Labor Day, 2008 - a last hurrah for many of the families who have had vacation homes here for 30 years

Morris Ferry Dock, Labor Day, 2008 - a final holiday weekend for many of the families who have had vacation homes here for 30 years

Sunday’s activities precluded my getting my gear and boat loaded up. And yesterday afternoon, my wife, son, in-laws, and I drove to Alabama for a barbecue at John and Linda’s house on the outskirts of Huntsville. I overate, but not like last time. I was full, fat, and tired by the time I hit the sack about nine of the clock.

I slept late this morning, was late getting boat and gear ready, and was late getting on the water at about eight o’clock. NOAA predicted winds from the northeast at 5-10 mph. The temperature was warm, and the wind calm, when I paddled away from the boat-ramp. My goals today were to have a look at Morris Ferry Dock, then paddle back to UTSI “beach” to practice sculling, braces, wet-exits, and kayak re-entries.

Small bird island several species' rookery - noisy place and stinks

Small bird island several species' rookery - noisy place and stinks

I paddled past the mysterious Island of the Birds, then across the lake to the causeway. Two aluminum canoes on the grass behind the VFW lodge waited side-by-side for someone to pull them into deep water.

Vacation homes at Morris Ferry Landing - dock's at the left

Vacation homes at Morris Ferry Landing - dock's out of the frame to the left

A woman sitting in a lawn-chair outside outside an ancient mobile home modified with equally old red-painted brick foundation and Florida room told me all of the Morris Ferry residents have been given notice that they must clear out by September 30. Her parents first, and now she and her siblings with their families share use of the house. She said, if I remember this right, it has been in their family for 37 years.

Today, she said, they were all planning to meet there to divide up furnishings and items of personal property. They will have the original trailer hauled away, and she wasn’t sure what they were going to do with it. She said the rest of the family was probably not interested, nor prepared to buy or lease a vacation home or property elsewhere. She and her husband, she said, were considering some options, but were glad their children had been able to spend their summers at the lake house.

The woman told me she’d heard three or four rumors about why the Arnold Engineering and Development Center commander did not renew the Morris Ferry Landing leaseholder’s contract. She seemed to disbelieve the reason provided by the AEDC public affairs office – that the fuel-dock, store, and other facilities were in a state of disrepair so severe that no reasonable expenditure could make them right; that the lease was originally granted when the area had no recreational boating, fishing, or camping access, and now there are several. Like her, I think the stated reason is bogus. The facilities are not state of the art, but they are functional, and although recreational access is available at Normandy and Tims Ford lakes, both relatively nearby, none will now be available at Woods Reservoir.

The lady said the homeowners had sought the advice of two lawyers, gathered 8,500 signatures on a petition protesting the site’s closure, had contacted television news and print media, had requested the base commander grant an extension on the eviction date, all to no avail. The base commander, she said, never deigned to respond in any way.

The one rumor the woman disclosed (and I would have liked to hear all of them) is that the current base commander wishes to reopen a facility on the Morris Ferry Dock site when he retires from military service in two years, and wants the site cleared off for his use at that time.

Wouldn’t surprise me if it were true, but I’d guess the guy would build condos, selling them to government aerospace contractor executives. On the other hand, he may be a genuinely decent sort who’s got a real reason for divesting a number of civilians of the vacation dachas that’ve been in their families for thirty-plus years. Based, however, on what I’ve observed character-wise (although I can think of five to seven exceptions LaterI can think of at least a dozen exceptions now that I’ve had time to reflect a bit – pity, however, that reflection was required) in so many of those I know who have been associated with AEDC, I’d have to doubt it.

Isaac paddling the Campsis Radicans, sitting far forward to reach the rudder pedals

Isaac paddling the Campsis Radicans, sitting far forward to reach the rudder pedals

Paddling on, around the cafe-store and fuel-dock, I saw a boy apparently swimming, jumping onto and back into the water from a blue sit-on-top kayak near a large white spherical buoy and a brown vacation shack. In a minute, I noticed the kid paddling the short blue Wilderness Systems I-Dunno-What model toward me, Werner paddle held upside-down and backwards. He asked about my boat, and I told him about his paddle.

IV & Beth's Morris Ferry Landing vacation house - Beth and another woman whose name I failed to retain

IV & Lynda's vacation house - Lynda & Beth adorning the stoop, Charlie barely visible at table on the porch apparently breaking his fast

The boy’s parents gave permission for him to try out the E68. “Are you sure?” his father said, “He’ll wear you out (talking about kayaks).” We swapped boats in the thigh-deep water at the bank by the family’s two other SOTs. Isaac, that’s the boy’s name, had to sit well forward in Campsis Radicans to reach the rudder pedals. He informed me that speed was necessary to the rudder’s performance, and he experimented with my Eric Renshaw paddle.

His dad, I.V., which is a play on his generational suffix, The Fourth, sat in the bow of his pontoon boat, tied up to a very old dock, and talked with me some. I.V. told me his whole name, but I’ve sadly forgotten it, not having had anything with which to take notes this morning. I do remember that the family farms substantial acreage near Chattanooga, and that IV’s wife is probably an attorney. I remember IV said his father was “an old country attorney” who had been politically involved, had campaigned hard for George Wallace. We talked about kayaks, about paddles, about a houseboat apparently abandoned and inoperable nearby.

He sounded pretty disgusted with the way AEDC is treating the Morris Ferry Dock householders. He said a former base commander tried something similar about 15 years, but that man’s arrogance was checked by a superior officer. Sadly, it seems the current commander’s arrogance will go unchecked. Woods, with the exception of two somewhat inadequate boat ramps, will in short order become a tiny AEDC Mare Nostrum, which is a loathsome shame.

Charlie paddling Campsis Radicans - Morris Ferry Dock's visible at left

Charlie paddling Campsis Radicans

IV paddling his own boat

IV paddling his own boat

I.V.’s friend, Charlie, was willing to try out Campsis Radicans. The four of us – Isaac, I.V., Charlie, and myself paddled out around a no-wake or a channel buoy, and back again. I was able to get back in my boat using the Renshaw paddle as an outrigger – for me, a noteworthy accomplishment. All in all, I think I spent about an hour visiting with them, which was the most enjoyable part of my time on the water today.

I did also enjoy paddling into the wind afterward, drifting up on some egrets (I’m pretty sure they were egrets), and photographing some of the few wildflowers now blooming along the lake’s shore.

In red bloom

In red bloom

Some wildflowers in context

Some wildflowers in context

Back at the put in (I never did make it to UTSI), I practiced some side-sculling, tried to figure out how far over I can put the kayak on either side without going over, for awhile before heading home.

A last look before paddling back under the causeway toward the put in

A last look before paddling back under the causeway toward the put in

How’s that for toned-down? Even a little proofread. Comments are welcome, but won’t appear until after I’ve hit the “Approve” button, unless you’ve posted previously. Bug or feature? Dunno.