Urban Wolf River Kayaking

Kath and I went to a great chili cook-off on Saturday afternoon and then struggled to get everything ready for the party we threw that night. The party went out without too much trouble, but we had waaaaay too much food left over, and we didn’t float the keg on the first try.

I didn’t get to bed that night until 3 AM (after going to bed at 4 AM the night before), and then I got up Sunday at 7:15 AM for an event we’ve been (barely) planning for a couple of months: a float down the Wolf River all the way across Memphis and into the Mississippi River.

The Wolf River is one of the most important river systems in west Tennessee, winding its way from north Mississippi, and slowly draining to the west after crossing the state line, eventually ending up in the outer suburbs of Shelby County until turning north and then west again for the end of its journey.

I’ve floated the Ghost River section of the Wolf twice before, starting with the Halloween float done last year with Frank. (The Wolf River Conservancy is making another trip on October 29th, and I highly recommend it, even for inexperienced paddlers.) The section we floated on Sunday is totally different than the sections between Moscow and Rossville: urban, shallow, wide, sandy, and mostly clear.

The group consisted of Frank Campagna, Richie Trenthem (the whole thing was his idea), Robert Bell, Jesse Blumenfeld, and me. We put in at Covington Pike and started immediately passing landmarks that we recognized, from the railroad bridge near Kennedy Park to the Jackson Avenue overpass.

Along the way, we discovered a big island in the middle of the river (which is clearly visable on Google Maps) and wondered exactly how many dozens of ATVs were in the woods on either side of us. Most of the river was very shallow, and it was difficult to locate the deepest channel most of the time. We were constantly having to get out of the kayaks and drag them in the channel to continue floating downstream.

We were surprised by the large variety of wildlife we saw, including at least one beaver (or otter), several huge blue herons, dozens of kingfishers, and quite a few fish. (One even jumped into the kayak at the end of the trip.) Amazingly, we only saw two or three structures during the entire trip, even though the Wolf bisects a city of over 1 million people. And we saw no other boats of any kind. The few folks up on the banks or under the bridges thought we were nuts…

As we neared the Mississippi River, the current on the Wolf slowed, and we had to paddle to make any progress (the river was up 2 feet, supposedly, and this kept the water from moving). Upon reaching the mouth, we headed out into the Mississippi and then down river until we got around the tip of Mud Island and then headed back up the Wolf River Lagoon, finally arriving at the Harbor Town Marina a little over 6 hours after setting out.

All in all, it was very enjoyable trip and one I hope to make again in the future, hopefully in the spring, when the water is a bit higher.

I’ve posted some photos and additional details of the trip here. Thanks to all of the guys for a great day…

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