Paddling Battle Creek from South Pittsburg, TN
A growing number of outdoor enthusiasts are getting canoes or kayaks and looking for a good place for some flatwater paddling or fishing. One lesser-known option, a mere half-hour drive from downtown Chattanooga, is Marion County’s Battle Creek.
As a tributary of Lake Guntersville, the creek’s water level is regulated by Guntersville Dam and except during periods of high, and thus faster-flowing, water, it can be paddled upstream for at least 7 miles.
The boat ramp at South Pittsburg’s Municipal Park provides easy access to the mouth of Battle Creek. From the ramp, paddle upstream along the shore of the Tennessee River for a very short distance, passing a couple of barge tie-ups and an abandoned loading platform. The mouth of the creek will be on the left, marked by several imposing concrete towers. These are remains of a railroad that was being constructed between Chattanooga and Stevenson, Alabama, just over a hundred years ago. An accident killed three workers during the construction of the bridge here in 1907. Soon after, the railroad project was abandoned.
After a short distance the creek parallels Highway 72 for about three-quarters of a mile and passes under an active railroad bridge before meandering through three bends within a 145-acre TVA tract (which contains bottomland forests and wetlands). This is a great area to see wildlife. At one point, a gravel road that accesses the TVA land borders the creek on the right. This might be a good place to take a break and view the wetland areas across the road.
After approximately 2.25 miles, you’ll pass under Highway 72 and will probably see many swallows darting about, as they nest under the bridges. On the right just before the bridge is an undeveloped fishing spot that provides an optional access point for paddling. It’s reached via a short trail from a TVA parking area. Paddling upstream from here will shave 4.5 miles from your overall distance.
Just past Highway 72, Battle Creek parallels I-24 for about a mile in a straight channel created when the interstate was constructed over the creek’s natural meanders. One of the drawbacks to this trip: If you’re looking for peace and solitude, traffic noise is unavoidable in places like this. But if you can deal with that, it’s a beautiful trip. You’ll encounter the occasional motorboat, but they tend to be few and far between.
After veering away from the interstate, a 95-acre tract of state-owned forestland between the creek and the interstate contains a couple of large beaver ponds. From Highway 72, you can usually paddle upstream for at least 4 to 4.5 miles to the confluence with Sweden Creek. A short distance up Sweden Creek it becomes pretty tough to navigate. Continuing upstream on Battle Creek, it also eventually becomes challenging to navigate due to fallen trees.
You will certainly see a variety of wildlife on this trip. White-tailed deer, muskrats, turtles and gar are likely sightings. Also, watch for wood ducks, great blue herons, kingfishers and ospreys.
For the South Pittsburg Municipal Park: From exit 152 on I-24, take U.S. Highway 72 toward South Pittsburg. When the highway splits (left to Scottsboro or right to downtown South Pittsburg) go right, then take the first left (before the turn which takes you over the big blue bridge). Turn left again (the only way you can go), then immediately right and into the park.
For the Highway 72 bridge access point: Just after starting toward South Pittsburg from exit 152, you’ll cross Battle Creek. Immediately do a U-turn and cross back over the creek. Then, immediately turn right onto a gravel drive and down to a parking area. The launch site is down a short trail back toward the bridge.
On Google Maps, you can search for the South Pittsburg Municipal Park.
GPS for the Hwy. 72 bridge access: 35.037405,-85.691709.
Note: During particularly rainy times, with resultant flooding, both launch sites may be inaccessible for extended periods.
Article by Bob Butters, Nickajack Naturalist