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Tennessee kayakers can get bored during a cold, dry winter. Fortunately for me, Rock Island runs everyday. I love to playboat, and make it most days… but there is another aspect of my whitewater addiction that does not get fulfilled there very often. I am referring to hopping in the creekboat and dropping something steep. As I wait for rain to fill the creeks, I typically stay immersed in my topo map, looking for new runs and waterfalls in the area. This habit usually results in lots of money wasted on gas and a few new drops each year.While perusing the Tennessee waterfall website earlier this fall I noticed an unusual number of waterfalls in a Highland Rim county not usually associated with whitewater. The fact that they were all relatively close together, and three were located in the same park sealed the deal… I had to go check them out.

Old Stone Fort is a state archaeological park located in Manchester, Tennessee. It is the site of a prehistoric “stone fort” which is interesting enough for a visit by itself. My interest was with the whitewater though. The website that I had found the waterfalls on said that there were three waterfalls there, all over 25 feet. The Duck and Little Duck come to a confluence, and just before, drop all their gradient. They are so close to each other that a loop trail a little over a mile takes you to all three waterfalls. The day that I arrived I was met with another surprise…. there were many lines running even though nothing else in the area was. I had been told the Little Duck side (Step Falls) had been run, so I focused my efforts on the higher volume right channel. The scout revealed lots of whitewater over a quarter mile trailside section. The run starts with a dam that could be dropped at higher flows, then goes into the ledgy Bluehole Falls. From there it rushes through a couple more small rapids before going over the lip of Big Falls. As I stood on the lip of Big Falls at a runnable flow with the sun going down, there were two thoughts in my mind … I wish I would have gotten here earlier and how have I never heard of this place?. On my way home, I began thinking about how large the drainage must be to have so much water. I also began thinking about the melting snow that I was trudging through to the falls that day. On a hunch, I took a look at the USGS gauge and it was on the rise. That was enough for me to Call Stephen Wright to go and check it out again the next day.

As fate would have it… we arrived late in the day and I only had time to get a couple of laps on Big Falls in the new Hero, which was well worth it! That wasn’t enough for me though, I wanted to check out all the whitewater there. That though was the cause of a return trip three days later. This time I got a look at Step falls: a series of 3-6ft. ledges that are right on top of each other and drop about 25ft in a class 3/4 fashion. The last ledge looks like it is always runnable in the winter. It is about 5 ft with a nice lip and lands in a deep pool. It would be great for practicing freewheels or pogo flips.There are also some creative high water lines there that I doubt have been run. I also put in below the dam for a low water scrapey run down the larger Duck (the water had dropped some). The run channelizes well, and there were runnable lines even at this low water level. The main purpose was to check out the river right line at Bluehole Falls. At the lower level it was an abusive line with a mandatory piton off a wall to set you up for a landing in a small crack. It would be possible to enter it straight on with a less sketchy line at higher flows.

I was extremely happy with what I found at this state park for a few reasons: 1) It is running when nothing else is and could extend the window of opportunity after a rain. 2) Big Falls the biggest, most abrupt drop there, channelizes perfectly for a run when the rest of it is low. 3) It is a low commitment park and huck with lots of possibilities for practicing about every type of line. 4) All of the rapids are close to the parking lot and trailside. I can’t wait to get back at a higher flow!

If you do decide to check out the Duck… please keep a few things in mind: The rangers have been super cool so far, please don’t do anything to change this. There are some sketchy spots on the Duck section, so don’t think that you can’t get hurt there.

Information and maps of the area are readily available, but if you have any questions feel free to email me at jaowen21 at gmail dott com.
Justin Owen