Center Hill Lake is just a few minutes down the road from Sparta, TN which means I want a boat. A big one. But a big boat means a big truck to pull it and a big garage to store it and big money to keep it running and full of gas and to buy all the toys that are necessary when one owns a big boat. And I would have to learn how to back it down the boat ramp to put it in the water. Just the thought makes me gnaw on my fingernails. The great thing, perhaps the best thing, about living in a sweet little town like Sparta, TN is that you know people and they are great people and they ask you occasionally to go to the lake with them in their big boat.

Center Hill Lake
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The Mitchells “BIG BOAT.” I love this boat!

Today is one of those great days. I am at Sligo Marina just past the brand new bridge to meet the Mitchell family (Tricia, a good friend of mine, her husband, Mark, and son, Peyton) for a day on the beautiful Center Hill Lake. Bill has a new home in Sparta to take care of today so I am riding solo. Mark shows up in his big boat and we load up all the toys and coolers and towels into said boat and put her in the water. Peyton, a good friend of my boys, drives around to the dock and picks up Mark after he parks the truck.

Center Hill Lake
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Sligo Boat Dock has a bunch of slips for your big boat, houseboat, or jet skis. They have houseboats and pontoon boats for rent and a restaurant on site.

Center Hill Lake Skiing

We get just past the no wake zone and Peyton takes a turn skiing. He pops right up and we pull him to the little island and into Eagle Cove. When he has had enough, it is my turn.

Center Hill Lake
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Little Island with Big Island just behind.

It has been over 10 years since I have water skied but since Mark and Tricia have this new boat, I just kind of want to know if I can still do it. I think about putting it off a bit till later in the day but Tricia has just informed me that her two brothers are going to be joining us shortly. I decide the less audience, the better, so jump right in to test my rusty skiing skills. Tricia yells out, “It’s like riding a bike,” but she is lounging on the boat with a drink in her hand. (Just ice water, Mom.) She is smiling and I’m not sure if it is genuine or perhaps, an I-can’t-wait-to-see-this smile.

Turns out, I pop right up, thanks to Mark’s big boat and ski back and forth until my arms are aching. I drop the rope and sink and then face Mark, who is unimpressed with my stamina. I, however, feel like I’m 25, encouraged that I got up and that maybe I’m not that old after all.

Center Hill Lake Picnic and Swimming

We swim around for awhile and then set up a picnic lunch on the boat. We eat sandwiches and blueberries from Dennis Clark’s farm in Sparta. Don’t you love eating on the lake? This is an inexplicable phenomenon – food is always better on the water than anywhere.

Center Hill Lake
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Lunch on the lake. Check out those blueberries!

Tricia’s brothers text us that they are almost here so we clean up and cruise back to Sligo to pick them up. I graduated high school with one of Tricia’s brothers, Rodney. He brings his two kids plus Richard, Tricia’s other brother.  Mark takes us to the Fall Creek slough and we swim and float and talk. Sometime in the midst of all this, I realize I am intruding on a family reunion of sorts, but no one seems to notice and the Mitchells always treat me like family so I decide it is okay and keep rolling.

More Center Hill Lake Skiing

Rodney’s son, Zander, has never skied so Mark works with him to get him gliding across the water. He pops up the second time and skis for quite awhile. Zander is hooked at this point and tries again and again to get up again. He falls forward one time and backward the next and then finally fights to maintain his balance and skis beautifully again. His time is up so Rodney gives it a try.

Center Hill Lake
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A little privacy was found on Center Hill Lake in this quiet slough even on this gorgeous day.

Now it is Rodney’s turn to fall forward and backward and sideways. We are all giving out instructions as if we are all pros. “Keep your knees to your chest.” “Let the boat pick you up.” And on and on are the words of direction meant to help but probably overwhelm. In spite of this, Rodney gets up and skis for the first time in his life, quite a feat for someone our age. We all cheer and his kids are more pumped than anyone.

Center Hill Lake Restaurant

We call it a day and head to Cookeville Boat Dock for supper. We have tried to reach Bill to meet us for supper but service is sketchy and we can’t get a hold of him. So we feed the ducks at the dock (you can buy food at the restaurant) and then head in to eat.

The grilled catfish catches my eye. I know. I know. Catfish should always be eaten fried but I have been wearing my swimsuit all day and that can do something to your disposition and force you to order it grilled. Tricia doesn’t eat fish (EVER) so gets a scrumptious looking cheeseburger with hushpuppies on the side. (You have to order hushpuppies.) We talk and laugh and visit. When my catfish comes, I am rewarded greatly for my discipline. It is fabulous! I eat every bite.

Center Hill Lake
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The sun is setting over Center Hill Lake.

We get back in Mark’s big boat to return to Sligo and home. The sun is going down and reflecting off the water. It is the perfect time of day. We pass Johnson’s Chapel and Ragland Bottom then go past big island and little island. We see the fishermen out along the banks, no doubt participating in a night fishing tournament. The lake is GORGEOUS! Tricia and I are snapping pictures and smiling with contentment. It’s really just so nice out here.

Center Hill Lake
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Fisherman ready for a night fishing tournament.

An End to a Great Day

We reach the dock way too soon and let Tricia’s brothers and Mark off and then Peyton drives the boat like a boss back to the boat ramp and up on the trailer. Out we go. I reluctantly climb out of the boat with Tricia and Peyton. We unload everything we had loaded earlier and say our good-byes.

When I get home, Tricia has sent me a picture of me skiing. My 25 year old euphoric feeling fades as I look at the picture. This is not what I had in my head. I delete the photo and continue with my delusional life, much happier for it.

I still want a big boat, but what is a big boat if you can’t share it with friends? Turns out the real treasure is the friends. I don’t need a boat…but wouldn’t it be cool to have a couple of jet skis to ride when we come down to Center Hill Lake with the Mitchells? I can’t wait to tell Bill my new idea. He will be ecstatic to hear he doesn’t have to buy me a big boat. Ha!

Center Hill Lake Info

Center Hill Lake is just about 15-20 minutes from Sparta. You can put in at Johnsons Chapel or Dublin at Riverwatch. Both are in White County. You can also cross right over the county line into DeKalb County and put in at Ragland Bottom or Sligo. These are the closest ramps. Ragland Bottom has picnic tables and a roped off swimming area and camping spots. Johnsons Chapel has picnic tables and a little unofficial beach area. Sligo has boat slips and a restaurant. You can also rent pontoon boats at Sligo. ($300 for the day.)

Image result for center hill lake map
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If the thought of enjoying a beautiful lake like Center Hill Lake in your free time is appealing, consider moving to Sparta, TN. We would love to build you a new home in Sparta! (And if Bill will ever get me those jet skis, you are welcome to come along!)

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