Boating And Sailing

Canoing on the Harpeth River

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"Canoing on the Harpeth River"
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There's a light that shines on the Harpeth River as it winds through Kingston Springs, Tennessee, and it's not the spirit of Montgomery Bell. It's the light of hospitality and love for the land and the water, and it shines brightly even through the fog.

Pat and David Hutcherson are celebrating their 20th season as proprietors of Foggy Bottom Canoe Rental, a gateway to the grand and gorgeous Harpeth. Foggy Bottom rents canoes, and kayaks, for trips lasting one and a half to four hours, or even longer. The season, which starts in March and lasts through October, is in full swing. Customers park their vehicles at the Foggy Bottom campground and get transported to a jumping-off point, and at the end of their journey, depending on their route (see box at end of story), they either get picked up or make a short jaunt back to the base.

The Hutchersons began this particular journey in 1987, four years after they were married. They made their home and operated a motel on the four acres on Highway 70, close by the river and as yet unchristened Foggy Bottom.

"People kept asking us if we rented canoes," Pat Hutcherson recalls. "It seemed like a good idea, so we bought some, and things took off." They closed the motel in 1992. The old office now sells basic supplies for an excursion on the river.

The Hutchersons were raising four kids and working when they started. They're retired from Kroger now, the kids are grown, and, like those folks in the Kroger ads, they love to meet and greet people and help them find what they want.

What you'll find on the river is peace, tranquility, beauty, and nature in abundance. The Harpeth is home to river otters, turtles, snakes, herons and even bald eagles, among dozens of other species. The area surrounding this section of the river was part of an early Indian settlement, referred to as Mound Bottom, which sprawled over 300 acres. The Indians, called Mississippians, flourished here from 1000 A. D. until about 1600, and constructed mounds as ceremonial centers.

The area is also notable for encompassing the site of an iron forge built by Montgomery Bell, at the Narrows of the Harpeth, where the river meanders under limestone cliffs and traverses a five-mile loop - one of the canoe routes offered. Bell, using slave labor and black powder, tunneled through a solid rock cliff 100 yards wide, to gain access to a waterfall to turn the wheels at the forge. The project took a year, and was completed shortly after the War of 1812. The forge turned out cannonballs, kettles and skillets, and other supplies for traveling armies.

Over the years, a strange light has reportedly been seen after dark in the vicinity of the Narrows. Some say it is the uneasy spirit of Montgomery Bell, hovering about to see that no one disturbs the wealth he supposedly buried somewhere thereabouts.

Be that as it may, a float in a canoe down the normally serene Harpeth River can be a spiritual voyage. It can also bring out the fighting spirit in people.

"We get couples with seemingly good marriages who go out, and come back not speaking," Pat Hutcherson laughs. She says they get all kinds, including those that claim to be professional canoeists. She remembers one who made that boast, then asked her which direction he should take. "I told him downstream would be a good idea."

The couple keeps a watchful eye on all their canoeists, regardless of skill level. They won't let anyone go out when the water is too high or moving too fast. If someone wants to stay out overnight, they encourage them to camp on their property, where there are picnic tables, firewood and bathrooms.

Foggy Bottom is very pet-friendly, the mistress of the establishment being an animal-lover. Hutcherson has six dogs of her own, and says she's found homes for a dozen more abandoned on the river.

Canoeing can be very relaxing, but Hutcherson says she seldom enjoys a moment's peace when someone's out on the river. "I don't breathe easy until they get back," she says. That's her maternal instinct speaking - her customers are like family. She and her husband love to canoe together, even after all these years, which proves not only that couples can peacefully co-exist in a canoe, but that the family that paddles together can keep from drifting apart.

More about this author: Paul Erland

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