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The Duck River: God's Gift to Tennessee

Somethgblue lives in Shelbyville, Tennessee and has kayaked the Duck River.

Duck River in January, Henry Horton State Park

Duck River in January, Henry Horton State Park

The Richest River in North America

Since my home is in Shelbyville, just a stone's throw from the Duck River, I decided it was time to write an article about this scenic and thriving waterway, which would require research and a chance to get to know it better. The Nature Conservancy says the Duck River is "the richest river in varieties of freshwater animals on the North American continent." This bounty makes the Duck River "God's gift to Tennessee."

Duck River Watershed

Duck River Watershed

The Course of the Duck River

The Duck River meanders through 284 miles of Middle Tennessee, originating from an area known as the Highland Rim, at an elevation of nearly 1,200 feet. This area was the traditional home of the Chickasaw Native Americans, known as fierce warriors, as opposed to their closest relatives the Choctaw, who were a more agricultural tribe.

The Duck follows a winding course from east to west. The largest town on the Duck River is Columbia, with a population of nearly 40,000. Otherwise, it flows through mostly rural uninhabited regions of Tennessee's Central Basin and Western Highland Rim.

It meets up with the Little Duck River, a minor tributary, in Old Stone Fort State Park in the city of Manchester. The park is named after one of the oldest (2,000 years old) freestanding Native American structures in North America. Evidence shows that this area of Tennessee has been inhabited by Native Americans for nearly 8,000 years.

Waterfalls in Old Stone Fort State Park, near the confluence of the Duck and Little Duck Rivers

Waterfalls in Old Stone Fort State Park, near the confluence of the Duck and Little Duck Rivers

Below Old Stone Fort Park, the river enters shallow Normandy Reservoir. Below Normandy Dam (a stretch I kayaked recently), it goes through my town of Shelbyville, then Henry Horton State Park near Chapel Hill. A 37-mile stretch in the Yanahli Wildlife Management Area, from near the Maury/Marshall county boundary to Iron Bridge in Columbia, was designated as Tennessee's second Scenic River.

The Yanahli Wildlife Management Area, 12,600 acres, was designated for public use in 2002, by the TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency). "Yanahli" is a Chickasaw word that means "to flow."

The Cheek's Bend cave system in the Yanahli Wildlife Management Area covers an area of 50 acres. Rummage Cave there has a series of five oval "rooms" 15 feet high by 30 feet wide, perfect for tribes of indigenous people to live in. Archaeological research by the University of Tennessee shows that small bands of hunter/gatherers used the Cheek's Bend caves for over 10,000 years.

The river traverses a small dam at Columbia, and continues on through Tennessee. Its main tributary is the Buffalo River, named for the buffalo fish that inhabit its waters. The Buffalo River was the first National River designated in the US, and is the only non-impounded river in the State of Tennessee. It joins the Duck near where the Duck empties into the Tennessee River, near the town of New Johnsonville.

Tree frogs, native to the area, sound like birds at night.

Tree frogs, native to the area, sound like birds at night.


The Duck River, while offering visitors a beautiful and diverse landscape, is also full of life. Locals in Shelbyville told me many times that the Duck River has the most diversity of species of fish in the United States. Upon further research I found that it has 151 species of fish, 55 species of freshwater mussels, and 22 species of aquatic snails. Photos of 21 of these freshwater creatures are featured in this National Geographic article.

Because mussels are very sensitive to pollution and are actually thriving in the Duck River, their presence goes a long way in providing proof of the water quality of the river.

Many larger animals use the Duck River ecosystem, including river otters, minks and beavers. Many species of birds thrive, such as osprey, hawks, herons and the wide variety of ducks from which the river gets its name. Bald eagles, the symbol of American freedom, can often be seen along the Duck River.

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Many endangered species of plants and animals live in or around the river. Some of these animals and plants include the birdwing pearly mussel (Lemiox rimosus), the leafy prairie clover (Dalea foliosa), the limestone blue star (Amsonia tabernaemontana var. gattingeri), and the limestone flame flower (Talinum calcaricum) to name a few.

A rare species of wood rat, plus gray bats (a threatened species), live in the area of the Cheek's Bend cave system.

Limestone cliffs and steep banks covered in thick foliage line the Duck River's shores.

Limestone cliffs and steep banks covered in thick foliage line the Duck River's shores.

Floating the Duck River

Floating down the Duck River is a peaceful and enjoyable experience for any outdoor enthusiast, whether you are there to fish or just enjoy the scenery. There are many ways to enjoy this river's diverse ecology, but renting a canoe or kayak offers the best view and is friendly to the budget. A canoe and kayak rental company in Columbia, run by Tennessee native Steve Tyndall who helped me when I was writing this article, is one of several that offer affordable trips down this beautiful river.

The Yanahli State Park portion of the Duck River offers boaters long deep pools that alternate with shallow stretches of mini-rapids. Many different species of trees line the banks, including cedars, sycamores, willows, and oaks. This area is also great for catching small game fish, such as smallmouth bass, striped bass, rock bass and what locals call redeye, a hybrid bass. Catfish are also abundant.

Long stretches of calm water make for constant but easy paddling while traversing the Duck River.

Long stretches of calm water make for constant but easy paddling while traversing the Duck River.

The Meandering Duck River Near Columbia, TN


Vicky on October 18, 2013:

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on October 02, 2012:

Your welcome somethingnewtry,

We make money by keeping visitors on our pages longer if we give them something interesting to read it accomplishes the task.

Pictures are great but can be viewed quickly plus providing substance helps readers to visit more of our work.

Aravind Chandarlapati from India on October 01, 2012:

I truly appreciate your comments on my work. I think it was really well written. Hope to get in touch with you more often as I guess our tastes match. Your article on the Duck is truly interesting. Really need to learn a lot from some of you guys especially the way you express yourself. Any way , goodbye and good luck

Beata Stasak from Western Australia on March 12, 2012:

Yes indeed...the scorching hour of lunch break, 40 degrees outside:) is no wonder that Aussies are 'hot headed' and have a 'sunny disposition' to their personalities:)

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on March 11, 2012:

As i said before I bought a Kayak and spent three hours on the Duck Saturday, although I didn't catch any fish, I wish I had brought my camera.

Perhaps a part two is in order or an ongoing Hub keeping my readers abreast of the Duck (pun intended) as i said before this seems to be a decent hour for you in OztrailYa . . .

Beata Stasak from Western Australia on March 11, 2012:

Very interesting story, thank you for 'opening my eyes' to a wonderful part of the world...and thank so much for stopping by in my parts and exploring my part of the sharing we become more travelled and wiser...thank my fellow hubber and all the best:)

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 14, 2012:

Yeah as you know being convinced and truly knowing are actually two different concepts, so I agree with you I just was rattling your cage.

RighterOne from Chicago, Illinois - USA on February 14, 2012:

I never said I agree (yet). However, I do know much about the New Madrid Fault Line - and I know about the insane earthquakes that have happened here in the 19th century. I read the eye-witness accounts, and I've heard LaRouche and his PAC team talk about this at length, as well as about preventive measures that our nation can take.

That said, I definitely see how this could easily occur...

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 14, 2012:

Yes, so you have been paying attention!

RighterOne from Chicago, Illinois - USA on February 13, 2012:

I thought I commented back... (damn you, HubPages!)

I would be driving from Chicago, IL - northern edge of the soon to be 'Mississippi Sea.'

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 13, 2012:

I will, no doubt . . . but let's wait until it warms up a bit and which direction would you be driving from?

RighterOne from Chicago, Illinois - USA on February 13, 2012:

Wo-ow, I love the Duck River - quack, quack! I never knew tree frogs lived THIS far north - that's amazing! Thank you for writing this article. I've driven through Tennessee on a few occasions on my way to Orlando and New Orleans - and it is a beautiful place, the mountains are simply gorgeous!

How about you guys let me know when you go fishing, I'll drive out and join you for a few days? You can bring your double-barrels and handguns too, and I'll bring my license.

RobSchneider on February 12, 2012:

You're not alone. I spent way too much time on a forum responding to some moron's persistent complaints about Sihanoukville. Then I went to the top of the thread and discovered he'd been making those remarks since 2009 and wouldn't listen to anybody's counter-arguments.

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 12, 2012:

I don't know why I took the bait, I promised myself I wouldn't let him get to me but like an idiot, I did. It was dumb on my part and I'm kind of embarrassed by it.

RobSchneider on February 12, 2012:

I've only been in your neck of the woods once and only for a week. It's a magical part of the world. What a fantastic hub! Please read my latest hub and comment. It's partly about you and your argument with the bard. Title is "What is the Hotel California?"

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 12, 2012:

Is it Offensive intellect or Superior intellect?

let's see, go to my hub on Imagination which I just published and pick any of my hubs in the links section a the bottom, which are kind of out there if you know what I mean and we can argue about those . . . seeya

Insane Mundane from Earth on February 12, 2012:

Why would you want to delete an Insane guy like me?

I've totally been thinking the same things, as I would love to get back into my old hunting & fishing hobbies that I used to enjoy so much, and to also get back in touch with nature.

I totally agree, but if ya want to argue about Nibiru, I'll see ya on another hub. Ha!

By the way, is there anything else you like to debate about? I'm currently banned from the forums on here due to my offensive intellect, but just wondering...

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 12, 2012:

That doesn't bother me as I'm in control and can delete you at a moments notice, which is kind of cool. I wasn't implying that you are a redneck, I'm just a city kid and everybody outside the city limits is a redneck.

I really like living in a small town and although I'm a good fisherman, no one has ever taken me hunting so I never learned but want to learn how to shoot a bow.

Plus one of the reasons I wrote this article is because I want to buy a kayak or canoe, but preferable a kayak and do some floating and fishing and get to know the area better.

I used to play softball and umpire all my life and am tired of it and want to get back into nature and do some serious fishing.

I love to argue especially about Nibiru cause no one can prove it one way or the other so anybody could be right or wrong for that matter, that is no biggie to me!

Insane Mundane from Earth on February 12, 2012:

Actually, I'm not a redneck and I'm obviously suffering from terrestrial displacement albeit I feel like I've landed on the wrong planet, at times, if you know what I mean. Anyway, it sounds like I'm a bit further northwest from you in this lovely state, but the Duck River covers quite a bit of territory, now doesn't it? Ain't that a sigh of relief... Ha-ha!

Uh, you're in a small town too, so it would be better if you just drove west and found a bigger town to shop for sporting goods OR you can simply order online. :)

Oh, yeah, I seen Gran Torino a couple years ago and it was a pretty decent flick. Yeah, Eastwood dies in that film, but he was at the end-stage of his career, ya know, so it was fair timing. I thought it was a good movie and I liked how it added a nice racial mixture, etc.

Oh, wait a minute! This Hub is about Tennessee and Duck River, and here we are rambling on about random subjects like it is some free-hosted blog! LOL!

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 12, 2012:

Well I don't reckon I will make your day, I just watched Gran Torino and think it is the only movie I have seen Clint die in, could be wrong though it has happened before just not about Nibiru/Planet X!

Yeah I just moved to Shelbyville, originally from Colorado, came to TN to get sober and liked it so stayed. Still working on becoming a redneck, hillbilly peckerwood tho I just don't have my yonders and reckons down quite right.

Where is the best sporting goods store around here, Shelbyville doesn't have one and I ain't driving to Nashville?

Insane Mundane from Earth on February 12, 2012:

Yeah, we were in disagreement about the existence of Planet X and/or Planet Nibiru, as you claimed that it existed and I said it didn't. But either way, you're right about one thing, Tennessee is well known for their guns, alcohol, drugs, and fishing poles... Ha-ha!

It's all good, though, as I'll most likely just bring beer and a fishing rod with bait (snub nose .38 isn't always required). See ya at the river, just call me Eastwood upon meeting, if ya suspect a .357 magnum is at hand, but hey, perhaps it will be for a new fishing technique... Ha! Just kidding... Actually, I could really go for some deep-fried catfish right about now; yummy! :D

somethgblue (author) from Shelbyville, Tennessee on February 12, 2012:

Didn't we get in an argument over something stupid, I don't remember the reason, but since I'm always right does it really matter?

No I haven't been fishing yet, waiting for it to warm up just a bit, It should be interesting when we actually meet since we both use pen names perhaps it has already happened!

That is really interesting it could be a lesson about who you piss off on the internet he or she could be your neighbor and since everyone in TN has a gun, well you get the picture . . .

Didn't the Hatfields and McCoy's live in TN?

Insane Mundane from Earth on February 12, 2012:

My gawd! The Duck River is just a few miles down the road from me... Oh, great, that means we got two lunatics on HubPages from basically the same area. *Sigh* Well, I haven't went fishing lately, how about your self? LOL!

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