Suburban Flatwater: South Chickamauga Creek Trip Report
February 11, 2007
Cold weather and work had me locked in the house for two weekends in a row and I just couldn't stand it anymore. I wanted to paddle whitewater but there wasn't anything running within 2 hours of my home in Ringgold, Georgia and I finally decided to check out South Chickamauga Creek, which flows less than a mile from my house. Lois Newton and I had been planning to paddle all week and we had our eyes on the Mulberry Fork of the Warrior but it would be close to a 3 hour drive and the level was right at the minimum. I opted for the closer option: South Chickamauga Creek.
I originally wanted to float from Ringgold, Georgia to Graysville but a second look at my guide book indicated that the distance was over 11 miles. That would have required an early start. Considering that the air temperature was about 20 degrees F early in the morning, I scrambled to find another segment. Finally I decided that we would put on at Graysville and float down to Camp Jordan in East Ridge, Tennessee, which is basically a city park.
The put-in was pretty good and the location is actually very scenic. The launch is just upstream of an old mill with a lowhead dam and the waterfowl love it. The old mill structure has been renovated and is obviously being used as a residence.
Unfortunately you have to do a mandatory portage to avoid the lowhead dam within about 60 yards of launching. The reason you can't just launch below the dam to start with is because the property is very fenced off and well marked with "Keep Out" signs. I find this somewhat understandable due to the presence of graffiti and obvious signs of fishermen all around the area, but it does make for a laborious start. The portage is over a small rocky island on river right, that is flanked by a pile of construction debris with water running through it.
After managing the portage we headed downstream and were able to make good time for a while. This section of the creek is definitely entirely class I although there are a few small rapids and riffles occasionally to wake you up. Unfortunately there is quite a bit of wood in the stream bed. When we came up on a nice little class I boulder garden, I managed to avoid portaging a second time but only by paddling through a dicey little slot (dicey because of branches in the channel). After watching me go through it, Lois decided to just get out and portage and it was probably just as well.
Lois Newton portaging through a typical class I boulder garden on the South Chick.
Considering that the entire run is entirely within the greater Chattanooga metropolitan area, it is surprisingly rural in character. We certainly did see plenty of houses, but the creek is mostly lined with woods and a few fields and obviously serves as a haven for suburban wildlife. We saw various types of ducks, Canada Geese, Cardinals, Hawks, a Pileated Woodpecker, Cardinals, a Great Blue Heron, what we think was a mink, and a large hawk of some type. We also spotted a beautiful Eastern Bluebird when we were setting shuttle at the takeout. It was a pretty good variety and abundance of wildlife for a suburban float trip.
Even though the creek is nicely lined with trees, you never can completely forget you are in the midst of civilization. You are never far from a train track and you float under it at least twice. Vehicles and the sounds of people working are easily heard. Portions of the creek are obviously located beneath the approach for one of the runways at the Chattanooga airport because occasionally you would hear the whine of jet engines and see a passenger plane fly over with flaps extended.
Initially the run just flows between dirt banks and you pass a few houses and a golf course. Eventually the run does pass next to some ridges (crested with houses for the most part) so the scenery does have a little variety. When the land drops back down again, you pass at least one additional golf course and some apartments before floating along Interstate 75. There are some really flat stretches as you approach the takeout at Camp Jordan, then you suddenly get the best rapid (by which I mean a large riffle). It is a small ledge with a narrow tongue and small wave train on the right. Then we were at the confluence with another creek (perhaps one of the forks of the South Chick) and we paddled upstream on that side stream less than a hundred yards to the point we had identified as a takeout.
All in all, I would say it wasn't a bad run. Most of the homes along the run are set back some distance from the creek and most of the stretch is completely wooded. I wouldn't go out of my way to paddle it, but considering that it is less than 10 minutes from my house to the launch in Graysville, I would definitely say it is better than not paddling at all. Having looked at the creek many times over the last year, I definitely consider this to be a winter float, as the flow is reduced to a scummy trickle during the warm months.
Hopefully I will be able to float the section from Ringgold, Georgia to Graysville at some point for comparison.
At the bottom of the mandatory portage. Fortunately it wasn't all open boaters . . . kayaks represent!!!! That's my rec boat at the bottom. It's good for some trips anyway.
- mostly wooded
- surprisingly good wildlife viewing
- proximity to my house
- Obvious smell of chemical fertilizers from the golf courses
- Somebody is raising fighting cocks right next to the creek on the edge of Graysville
- Minor visual intrusions of urban life, tires in creek, houses on ridge, airliners flying over, etc.
- I got a flat tire somehow and had to inflate before going home. That probably has nothing to do with the trip but it definitely detracted from the day.