Hill Lake, near Smithville, Tennessee
May 19, 2011
While browsing the map around home one day, I noticed a big island in the middle of Center Hill Lake that looked heavily wooded and unpopulated. Davies Island is a 1-square mile hilltop surrounded by the artificial reservoir waters of Center Hill Lake, impounded by a large hydroelectric dam on the Caney Fork River. I always found that name a little odd, by the way, whereas most rivers have a North Fork or South Fork of the main river (North Fork Platte River, for example) or Clear Fork of the Trinity or Prairie Dog Fork of Red River, Caney Fork is just a fork unto itself: Itís not the Caney Fork of the Cumberland River, or something like that, nope, itís just the Caney Fork. Thatís it. A quick web search indicated that Davies Island is not privately-owned, so I immediately made plans to paddle out there to check it out.
Time passed by, and I had a hard time implementing the plan. With only 2 weeks left in Tennessee before we moved to Wyoming, Andra and I finally got the kayak on the car and headed up to Ragland Bottom as soon as I could scramble home from work. It was a cloudy, oppressively-humid afternoon, especially right there on the water, but I was too excited to mind. We carried the kayak to the water, jumped in, and off we went, heading due north. From the map it looks like youíd see the island no problem as you cruise north in the lake, but the shoreline is so heavily wooded and convoluted, that if I didnít have my GPS with me, Iím not sure we would have been confident in finding it. The paddling on the still water was hard work, and by the time we made it to the south shore of Davies Island 25 minutes later, I was ready to jump in the lake to cool off. My life jacket was like a down jacket, and I slipped it off when we reached shore.
At water level, white sedimentary rocks provided a step to hop out of the kayak, but there was no easy way to beach it. Immediately above the waterline, the island terrain shot upwards at a steep angle, covered with trees, shrubs and poison ivy. In this particular spot, there was no way both of us could leave the boat, since someone had to stay with it to keep it from floating off and to help stabilize it while the other person got in or out. I scrambled up the hillside a short ways, but soon realized it was going to be a long haul to get to the top of anything, and anyway I could hardly get any traction in my sandals over the steep ground. I returned to the kayak and got back in. We paddled along the shore for a bit, but saw more of the same.
The lake was pretty quiet. We saw a few motorboats in the distance, especially up the Falling Water Inlet (where Burgess Falls sits), but overall it felt pretty isolated. I liked it. However, the heat was oppressive, and frankly I was a little put off at the thought of paddling around the entire island, a distance of something like 4.5 miles. Even if we had the time to do it, which we didnít, I think I would need a cooler day to make that trip. So, we decided to head south and check out a smaller island about 1500í south of Davies Island.
The smaller island had shores
that were not so steep, and we were able to beach the kayak and walk around.
Hickoryand white oak trees covered the island, a small spit of land
about 500 feet long. After walking the length of the island, we returned
to the kayak and paddled off south across the smooth, dark expanse of water.
Such depths make me nervous. From historical maps, I figure the pre-dam
river level was about 550í, which put us just about 100 feet above the
original river. By 5:30 we were back at the boat ramp, rigging the
boat back on the car. Sure wouldíve liked to have spent more time kayaking
around the rivers and lakes in Tennessee, but the west called, and I had
to head on back.
An apparant campsite on the small island
Almost back to Ragland Bottom
A successful trip
Andra at Davies Island
Small Island south of Davies Island
Andra on the south shore of Davies Island
Sam up the steep slope on Davies Island
Kayaking on Center Hill Lake
Beached kayak on a small island south of Davies Island
Davies Island is the big hump on the right
Andra on the small island
Oaks and hickories on the small island