Duck River Above Henry Horton State Park


On Friday 4 June I finished up a bunch of deadline stuff and drove home about 11:40 pm, conked out by 12:15 am Saturday morning.  Saturday slept late, then got up, ran the line-trimmer, mowed, cleaned up. 

Seventy-Six and I spent a lot of time wrestling, playing with toys, playing outside.  Then we assembled the RZ96 so it would be ready to take to Henry Horton State Park on Sunday for a picnic send-off for a young cousin joining the USMC.  After several breaks during which we ran around the yard, threw basketballs at a small goal, played with trucks, chased each other around trees in the yard, and rang the front door-bell to see if Caution-Lady would come to the window and say “Hello,” we completed the assembly and I let Seventy-Six play in the boat.  I assembled and packed the necessary gear for a day on the water and packed it in Thursday’s trunk (I’ve found it is impossible to get the car’s trunk open enough to load anything with a boat on the roof-racks).

Back at the house after worship service Sunday, I got the >100# behemoth up on to the car’s roof using a simple method suggested by Ralph Hoehn.  I opened the front passenger door, rested the bow thereon, then lifted the stern and using simple leverage lifted it and set it across the rear rack.  Then I moved the bow on to the front rack, straightened the boat and secured it.  No need for complicated systems of rollers and pulley’s. 

The car’s handling does not seem much affected by carrying a boat on its racks.  I always transport the assembled RZ96 hull-up because the frame seems stoutest at the coaming, and the ends sag downward if the boat’s on the racks hull-down.  Also keeps rain out of the boat, and it rained a lot Sunday afternoon before we were able to launch at the state park.

After visiting, trying to keep Seventy-Six from getting too filthy jumping in puddles or too soaked playing in the intermittent downpours,  a lunch of hot-dogs, hamburger’s, side-dishes, and dessert, it was time to launch.  The banks of the Duck River are steep at Henry Horton State Park, certainly too steep to carry down to the water from our picnic site by the Highway 31-A bridge. 

The gravel, asphalt, and mud track that provides river access to folks with trailered boats didn’t look like it had a turnaround at the bottom, so I backed the car up to the road again and parked in the grass at the top.  My cousin and I got the boat off the racks, I got pfds, paddles, water shoes, and so forth, out of the trunk.  Shoes changed, we carried the boat down to the water accompanied by my young cousin’s girlfriend, and another cousin.

After brief discussion, we decided to paddle upstream and return with the current, as opposed to paddling downstream to the point nearest our picnic area by the bridge.  That was probably a mistake, because the current was not terribly swift, and we found we had no trouble paddling upstream against it from the put-in.

 Just-Upstream-the-Put-In Duck-River-BluffsRZ96-BowWild-RootsOther-PaddlersMore-Duck-River-Bluffs

While on the water, we saw a number of other paddlers, some, like those pictured above, traveled with children and towed water toys behind them for occasional stops to allow the kids to play in the water.  Most appeared to be paddling rental boats – red, green, yellow canoes and sit-on-top kayaks.  We passed a disused yellow rope-swing overhanging the water on our right.  On our left, further upstream, we observed some jumping into the river from a rock face about 20 feet up.  We came to a shallow rapids and had to get out of the boat to pull and carry it over the shallow rocky bottom.  I think it may have been there that we unknowingly brought the hull in to contact with some object incompatible to its continued integrity.  At the time, however, we noticed nothing amiss.  After the rapids, we got back in and continued to paddle.  We saw floating downstream what appeared to be a family group on inflatable pool lounges rafted-up to an approximately 12 foot flat-bottomed aluminum river punt.

After reaching a point where it seemed like we’d been away from the picnic long enough, we turned around and headed back to the put in.  We noticed a lot of water in the bilge, and I remember saying I didn’t think paddle splash or the water we’d brought in to the boat in our shoes when we got back in after walking the boat upstream the rapids would account for its volume.  At the put in, we discovered the means by which the water entered the boat.

The surprising thing is that I’ve paddled this boat over shallow rocky bottoms, struck submerged rocks and stumps with it, dragged it over dead tree limbs blocking passage, etc., with never a problems.

Following are a few dramatic photographs for shock value.  I’m going to try to repair the tear this week while the hullskin is already conveniently stretched upon the boat’s frame.     




A note about names:  I tend not to use real names of family members and friends online – it’s bad Internet hygiene.

35th TSRA Duck River Float

Yesterday’s TSRA Duck River Guest Float was a pleasant trip, met some new people, said “hello” to a couple I’ve met before. The group assembled at the Henry Horton State Park restaurant’s parking lot. I got there early because I wasn’t sure how fast I could safely drive with Campsis Radicans on the Volvo’s roof racks. Turns out I can drive about 65 to 70 miles per hour without mishap, but tended to motor along at about 60 mph, 50 on the narrower roads.

I wasn’t the first to arrive. When I pulled up a woman with a European accent named, I think, Christine, was inflating and rigging a white tandem boat for herself and her daughter, a child of about nine whose name I never did hear. Don and Jeffrey from Paddlers for Christ showed up with four short kayaks on top of a white Dodge Caravan pulling a trailer. A couple from LaVergne pulled up next – Alison and Ken (apologies if I’ve got the names wrong – I have read Dale Carnegie’s book but have yet to get good at remembering names) with a couple of Old Town boats green and blue, all shiny and comfortable looking. Pointing to the green boat, Ken said, “That’s my Cadillac.” Jim and his wife, whose name I’ve sadly forgotten, showed up about then. I don’t recall Lynn showing up until right around 10:00 am. A couple in advanced middle-age brought their 15′ river canoe with end and middle float bags, spare paddles, reinforced with additional thwarts – a serious boat. Others brought sit-on-tops rented or owned. The state park rangers provided paddles, pfds, and about six ancient canoes that’d seen some hard use. Nat, a seasonal interpretive specialist, and another ranger whose name I didn’t catch, accompanied the group.

Frank Fly set up a small camp table he unrolled from a bag – I watched with interest thinking it looked like more trouble than it was worth to get a relatively hard surface, but probably more necessary for writing than for general camp use. Frank registered everyone, waivers were likewise distributed and signed.

That done, the group proceeded to the put in at, I think it was, Hardison Mill dam. I was proud my Volvo 850 had no trouble getting back up the rutted, dusty gravel and dirt road from the put in to the parking area. What a car. Once all the boats were ready to launch, Mr. Fly outlined the rules and we all launched and paddled up to have a look at the mill. The rules were something like:

1. Don’t get out of sight of the other boats

2. We’re not in a big hurry here, so don’t get impatient and race to the take-out

3. If your boat flips, save yourself and let someone else worry about getting your gear

4. PFDs are mandatory

5. We will take a lunch break of at least one hour – if you eat fast, you’ll just have to entertain yourself until the hour’s up and we’re all ready to go

6. Only two to a boat

I took too many pictures (and they can be found here), but like others hope that if I shoot a lot, at least a few will be worth keeping. I heard folks talking about Jimmy Carter’s attack rabbit, mussels, global warming and snow-sledding in Middle Tennessee. Sharon talked about being on the lake at Camp Buckner and some cadets screaming and paddling as fast as they could to get away from a snake that followed too quickly and close.

Christine’s daughter used a brightly colored parasol to keep off the sun. I didn’t get a good picture, but it was a quaint sight. We stopped while some of the group jumped off a tree-swing into the river, then just a little while later, for lunch on the cool, mossy banks of a nearly straight spring-fed creek. Paddling into the creek I felt cold rising heavy off its rushing surface. Temperature along the banks felt like 75 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the fellows, I think his name was Mark, brought his maybe 10 year old son along. The boy spied a small water-snake in the creek’s very cold water. It had diamond markings, but a blunt shaped head, so maybe was not poisonous.

I got well ahead of the main group of paddlers with some others. A lot of folks were on the river, many in the red River Rats canoes, a number of others in their own boats. Saw a couple of anglers in small motorized boats.

Past the River Rats take-out, the group I was more or less with stopped at gently sloping bank, swam, skimmed stones, and waited for the others. Nat, the UT guy working the summer as an park interpretive specialist (maybe another job titled, but something like that) found and showed us a plant called Dutchman’s Pipe. All day I’d been seeing these little gray-blue moths or butterflies. One lit on my left hand between the knuckles of my fore and middle fingers. I was able to get a couple of pictures.

After what seemed like a long time, some of the others paddled into sight. Mr. Fly gently chided us for missing out on an interesting hole of uncertain depth. Paddling on, we came into sight of the bridge at the take-out beyond which lies the remains of a low-head dam and a class maybe 2 but probably 1 rapids or drop or whatever the people who know call them. Locals were jumping into the river from a much more elaborate tree-swing consisting of one line to haul to up the other line that is the swing. The swing terminated in a chrome set of moto-cross bicycle handlebars. As I paddled into view, a kid in his teens was air-borne, and executed a flip before hitting the water.

Rangers were waiting for us at the take-out under the bridge. Some of us ran the rapids. I paddled up to them, but turned away thinking that would add to the distance I’d have to haul my boat up the hill to the parking area. Don asked if I’d use his camera to shoot some photos, and I did. His camera’s memory card must’ve been nearly full because its LCD display flashed a no-more-pictures message. I took a few with my own aged Pentax Optio WR 3.2. Shutter’s so slow I didn’t know what I’d capture. Got a few pictures.

We loaded into a van driven by Randy, head ranger at Henry Horton State Park, and were taken back to the put-in to retrieve our cars. Alison and I talked about our babies on the ride. She and Ken have a little one, five months old, named Rose. We talked about baby life-jackets, parenthood, baby bug-spray and sunscreen.

I had no idea how to get back to the take-out. Fortunately, I’d gotten to my car quickly and was able to follow Mr. Fly, who fairly flew (45 mph felt fast on these roads), down a different route of unfamiliar, narrow roads back. Once again, Thursday the 850 acquitted itself well, easily negotiated the rough dirt track down under the bridge. Only thing about this trip that struck me as problematic was lack of organized return to the take-out. Two of our number, Alison and Lynn, got lost – I was able to see Frank turn right, but Alison, who was behind me, went straight. Both of them eventually got back to where Ken was waiting by the boats.

Editing when I find the time – If I’ve got names mixed up, sorry and feel free to comment

Float the Duck River

2005, we floated the Duck from Cortner Mill to Dement Bridge, an easy, fun excursion with my wife and some friends

Summer 2005, between Cortner Mill & Dement Bridge

This Saturday, 7 June, the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association is sponsoring an 8-mile float down part of Tennessee’s Duck River. The Duck is the longest river contained entirely within the borders of the State of Tennessee. I’ve paddled it in Bedford County both below and above Normandy Dam, but have never put in near Henry Horton State Park. Yeah, me too. Every time I hear that name, I think, “Dr. Seuss?” or, “Hoo?”


This is a pleasant float for paddlers of all ability levels, and is an excellent opportunity for beginners to gain experience on a river prior to canoe school. This member-guest float is designed to promote canoeing, TSRA, and the Duck River.

The float is approximately 8 miles from the put-in near Verona Road off Highway 99 to the take-out at Highway 431, where a beautiful Class I rapid can be run repeatedly. Bring lunch in a water-proof container. Life jackets are required and a limit of two persons per canoe, with the exception of small children.

Canoes, paddles, and life jackets can be reserved by calling the Rangers at Henry Horton State Park at (931)364-7724. Camping and rooms are available at Henry Horton State Park on Highway 31-A approximately 50 miles South of Nashville.

Meet at the restaurant parking lot at Henry Horton State Park at 10:00 a.m. Central Time. From Interstate 65 South of Nashville take Highway 412 (99) East to Highway 31-A and turn right.

Pre-registration is not required. Please come!

Contact information can be found at