Earth Day and the Duck River

Duck River in Columbia Tennessee
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Earth Day

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality, and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”

Earth Day has been celebrated every year on April 22 since 1970. That means this marks 50 years of bringing awareness to our environment. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day when he was a U.S. Senator representing Wisconsin (1963-1981). He also served at Governor from 1959-1963.

According to, “Today, Earth Day is widely recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, marked by more than a billion people every year as a day of action to change human behavior and create global, national and local policy changes.”

The Duck River 

 We thought this might be an excellent time to spotlight an environmental treasure, right here in Middle Tennessee.  The Duck River is 284 feet long and is the longest river contained entirely within the boundaries of Tennessee. It provides water to approximately 250,000 people in Middle Tennessee. 

 The Duck River is a favorite for my family. We began our adventures on the river by renting canoes from local companies. After a couple summers of that, we decided to buy our own canoes. As the kids have grown, we’ve bought kayaks for each of us. Floating down the river is a great way to spend a hot summer day in Tennessee. The kids, and us too really, get to see parts of our county in a whole new way. We have explored so many types of mussels, fish, turtles, snakes, birds, otters, even cows that have wandered down to the river. There one particular stretch we do that we always follow a heron down the river. Although one of our least favorite memories was coming around a bend only to hit a wall of the worst odor we had ever encountered – a dead deer just off the shore. We paddled harder and quicker than we ever had before.

Biodiversity and Resources

From TN.Gov – “It supports more than 50 species of mussels, over 20 species of snails and more than 150 species of fish. The Duck River is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the U.S.”

Among the fish species that make this river their home:

Highfin Carpsucker, Streamline Chub, Coppercheek Darter, Ashy Darter, Golden Darter, Barrens Topminnow, Southern Brook Lamprey, Burrhead Shiner, Rosyface Shiner, Smallmouth, Spotted Bass, Rock Bass, Largemouth, Stripers and many more. 


As mentioned earlier, the Duck is great for boating. There are lots of swimming holes along the way, as well as a few caves to explore. A favorite cave we found is fantastic in the hottest part of the day, as it’s significantly cooler in the cave. Fishing is abundant in the river with all the species of fish present. Pack a lunch, plenty of water, and head out for a great day. 

We want to be sure to remind you always to take every safety precaution when enjoying the river. Check the water levels before heading out and use life jackets. 


Flooding is a fairly common occurrence for the Duck River in Columbia. Especially in late Winter and Early Spring as we get a lot of rain. The level for flood stage is 32 feet, with the action stage set to 28. Currently, on April 22, 2020, the river is at 7.15 feet. Most recently, it hit the flood stage on February 7, 2020, at 33.43 feet. At 34.5 feet, the waters reach the grounds of Riverside Elementary School in Columbia. The 34.5 level is crucial because that is when Maury County Schools will cancel school due to flooding. 


Mussels are a vital part of the freshwater ecosystem. They act as the filtration system for the river. Filtering the water for the other species in the river and working to remove pollutants from the river. When the river is in trouble, mussels are among the first to signal the problem. 

Center for Biological Diversity “Unfortunately, for all their allure, freshwater mussels are the most endangered group of organisms in the United States.” 

What you can do 

Think of that scene from Disney’s Finding Nemo, where the fish declare that all drains lead to the ocean. While that’s not precisely true, our storm drains do lead to the river. The City of Columbia has a section on its website dedicated to its Stormwater Program. Here are some of the things they have listed that you can do all the time : 

  • Wash your car at a commercial car wash where the dirty water is discharged into the sewer system or wash your car on grassy areas where the dirty water will be absorbed rather than run off into the storm drain.
  • Compost yard waste such as leaves and grass clippings. Don’t dump them in ditches and waterways where they can clog pipes and cause flooding.
  • Direct downspouts onto lawns and away from paved surfaces. Consider the use of rain barrels to save rainwater for later use in your lawn or garden.
  • Follow the directions on fertilizer labels and sweep the excess off of driveways sidewalks and roads so that the chemicals stay where they were intended and are not washed into storm drains.
  • Pick up after your pet. Don’t let pet waste wash into storm drains or drainage ditches.
  • Check your car for leaks and recycle used motor oil. Never pour motor oil on the ground, into a storm drain, or drainage ditch.
  • Only Rain Down the Drain! Never put any kind of waste into storm drains or drainage ditches.

You can also help clean up the river. Take a bag, or several, with you the next time you take a trip on a boat, canoe, or kayak and make a point to pick up any trash you see. You can also go to the river banks anytime and do the same thing but on land. What a great way to get outside as a group or family and help out the community as a whole. 

We’d love to hear your stories of time on or around the Duck River. Email us at

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