The sun was starting to rise in the Sparta, TN sky luring me outdoors, like a neighborhood kid knocking on the front door asking if I could come out and play. The mother in me said no, I have too much to do. But the sun refused to leave so the kid in me finally won and I made my outdoor plans. I have been wanting to kayak down the Calfkiller River for some time and my sister, Tamara, has agreed to go with me so we set our plan.
I need Cole’s (my 16 year old) truck to transport my kayaks but he gives a multitude of reasons why he can’t drive my super hip minivan to school. Hmmm? His loss. Later that morning, I go to the high school and trade out vehicles. By the time he is finished with basketball practice after school, I will have his truck returned.
Kayaks loaded, I meet Tamara and my mom at South Carter Street Park in the middle of town for a quick lunch. We had planned on eating under the pavilion but even though it is about 60 degrees, the breeze is blowing making the shade a bit nippy. Instead we sit on benches in the sun and eat our sandwiches and chat.
A gentleman is sitting on another bench nearby taking a rest. A few mothers are there watching as their children slide and swing and spin around and around. The Calfkiller River is stealing past us making us look forward to our coming trip. My mother wants to go kayaking too but her health prevents her from making the trip so she is content to be a part of our pre-adventure lunch.
After we finish eating, we drive a street over to South Church Street and follow it until it ends at a nice boat ramp and parking lot. Mom goes with us to watch us embark. The plan is to paddle upstream to the dam and then return downstream. I had taken a peek at the current of the Calfkiller when I was at the park eating lunch and was a bit concerned about how hard we were going to have to paddle. I’m about to find out.
I get in my kayak and push off then get myself settled. Whoa Nellie! When I look up, I have indeed drifted quite a bit…the wrong way. I start digging in with my paddle and make up for lost ground quickly, catching back up with Tamara. We wave good-bye to mom as if we were 10 again and heading off to church camp. “We love you, too!”
Tamara and I are immediately struck with how pretty it is. How many times in my life have I crossed over the Calfkiller at the bridge in town? Too many to count. But you can’t really see it when you are driving past.
I have only been on the water of the Calfkiller a few times. When Cole was in his early middle school years, he came in one night and announced he wanted to build a boat and float down the Calfkiller. My own Huckleberry Finn.
Since Bill was busy building new homes in Sparta, I got busy helping Coco build a boat. Coco had a plan so I just drove him to get supplies: leftover wood from one of Bill’s worksites, rope, nails, and inner tubes. B.K. Luna of Luna and Sons’ Tires in town helped us out with the inner tubes. B.K. runs his shop like you want a small town business to be run. He has always done anything he could to help me and would do the same for you. In fact, when Bill and I got married over 20 years ago, he drove me around in a horse and buggy before I walked down the aisle at our outdoor wedding. (How embarrassing!) Even now, you can expect him to take care of you if you need new tires (no promises on the horse and buggy) and will most certainly give you the small town treatment. Once again, B.K. came through for me and provided my odd request: inner tubes for a boat.
Supplies in hand, Cole and I hammered the wood together into a wooden platform then drilled a few holes though the wood. We tied the inner tubes under the wood threading the rope through our predrilled holes. In case you are wondering if this will work, rest assured, I did too. We borrowed some paddles from my dad and then plunged into the Calfkiller at Blue Springs Road. To Cole’s credit, it floated!
We paddled all the way to the River Road (Hwy. 84/S.Main St.) at the dam. Bill met us there and picked us up. The boat is in our barn to this day and is worth a million to me.
On this day, Tamara and I are moving along a bit better in our Jackson Kayaks (made in Sparta, TN) than Cole and I did. We see little water falls on the banks, moss, and layers of rock. The sun is shining on the water and reflecting the trees.
We decide this is Sparta’s most untapped resource. We have a beauty hiding in our midst, cloaked in familiarity. It seems I do that often with God’s creations. The butterfly fails to amaze me. I walk right past a blooming flower. And the Calfkiller River, which is not only beautiful, but also supplies the water we use each day, winds below me without my notice most days. Today I am determined to see and be thankful. God has been too good not to take note and offer an acknowledgement of Him.
After about 15 minutes we pass the park again. Mom has driven back over to wave at us as we pass. You may think she is a clingy mother but really she just wishes she was on the water with us. My mom really loves this kayaking stuff! She’ll go with us next time.
Just past the park, we go under the bridge in town that I have crossed so many times without thinking. The current suddenly picks up here and Tamara and I are forced to start paddling like we are in a raging white water river (maybe I am exaggerating). Slowly we pass under the bridge and the current subsides. Whew! What was that all about? The only thing we can see is that the piers from the bridge in the river are creating the current.
Fortunately, it doesn’t last long and we move along to pass the park on the other side of the bridge. There is a path and a lovely pavilion and picnic table. The water is calmer here and more private.
We run upon several different large groups of birds, spooking them from their refuge. We get close to a big Blue Heron and watch him soar off.
We see squirrels on the banks looking at us as if they are certain we don’t belong. Later we see a big bull on the side of the river. He was big enough for me to hope he didn’t know how to swim. We keep on paddling until we see the dam up ahead.
This sight reenergizes us and we pick up our pace. The dam is not huge, of course, but it is bigger than I expected and has more water spilling over than I thought it would. We examine it as best we can without getting too close before we turn and head back. If you make this trip, be certain to not get too close. Several fatalities have happened here.
The Calfkiller River has several legends that surround its name.
Most people say it is named for a Cherokee Indian who lived along its banks. Others say the river was much colder and faster moving back then and was constantly luring young calves that belonged to the earliest settlers into its waters only to sweep them away. For whatever reason, someone named it the Calfkiller and the name stuck.
Fish are jumping in front of Tamara and me and to our sides. Coco would love this. It is quiet and he would have the fishing all to himself here.
My Uncle H.L. Kirby has fished these waters his whole life and can tell you story after story. Of course, how much can you trust a fisherman, right? He told me he pulled a huge muskie right out of the Calfkiller one day…but this time, he had a picture to prove it. I guess all of those other stories are true too!
We are paddling downstream and making progress quickly. We come upon the bridge through town before we know it and then pass the park again. Mom has left. Oh well, it has been over an hour since we passed the park. We curve around to our dock and load our kayaks back up, another great Sparta adventure in the books, but so many more to embrace.
The sun is lower in the sky now but looks pleased. I am too. Tam and I part ways and I take the kayaks back home and then return Cole’s truck to him. Returning home, I beg the sun to dawdle so I will have time to get some things checked off my to-do list. I think the sun winks at me. The mother in me sighs. But no matter, I tell myself. This day has been relished. The items on my list will wait until another day…but perhaps not until a rainy one, when the sun hides its face.
*It took Tamara and me about an hour and 20 minutes to reach the dam but just about 40 minutes to return. From the ramp to the park it took about 15 minutes. We spent roughly 2 hours on the water.
*Please be careful if you make this trip. The dam and the water around it can be quite dangerous.
*We would love to have you as our neighbor in Sparta, TN! Please let us know if you have any questions about a new home in Sparta!