Duck River in Tennessee.
Duck River reflections Duck River in Tennessee. © Byron Jorjorian

Places We Protect

The Duck River

Tennessee

The Duck River is widely considered North America’s richest river in variety of freshwater animals.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Winding 269 miles through Middle Tennessee, the Duck River is one of the state's most scenic waterways. But there's more here than meets the eye. Underneath the surface, the river teems with an almost unsurpassed variety of freshwater animal life. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Duck River is one of three hot spots for fish and mussel diversity in the entire world. It is generally considered to be the richest river in varieties of freshwater animals on the North American continent. A feature article in the February 2010 issue of National Geographic highlighted the Duck River's biological diversity.

Just as significant, the Duck River is the sole water source for 250,000 people in Middle Tennessee. The water quality of the Duck River is crucial for animals, for people, and for the local economy alike.

What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing
Since 1999, The Nature Conservancy has been working on the Duck River with local communities, businesses, and government agencies to ensure the long-term protection of the river's water quality and ecological integrity.

The explosive urban growth occuring in the upper Duck River watershed – combined with the river's extraordinary biological richness – elevates the importance of protecting this Middle Tennessee resource, and it compels The Nature Conservancy to implement a variety of cutting-edge strategies. For example:

  • Through a federally supported Landowner Incentive Program, the Conservancy has provided guidance and funding to help farmers manage their land in ways that protect streams, attract wildlife and enhance habitat. Since 2004, through this program, the Conservancy brought over $700,000 to Tennessee landowners so that they could make environmentally friendly improvements along the Duck River, such as cattle fencing, water stations, and creek crossings.
  • On Big Rock Creek, a major tributary to the Duck River, the Conservancy has been working on a successful long-term restoration project funded with $1.5 million of grant support from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. One highly visible and locally popular component of the project has been the greenway in Lewisburg, which The Nature Conservancy enhanced considerably. The Conservancy planted 1,000 native trees and shrubs along the city's creek and greenway, added educational signage, stabilized the severely eroding streambank, and added riffles and pools to the stream channel. Big Rock Creek is now running clearer, wildlife is returning to the area, and the Lewisburg Greenway is popular with the city's populace.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy's crucial conservation work on rivers and streams across the U.S. and abroad.

In addition to being a great river for paddling, the Duck River is also a great river for fishing, especially smallmouth bass. If you'd rather not paddle or fish, you can stroll right down to the river in Columbia. One good spot is Pillow Park/Riverwalk Park, accessible by West 5th Street, which becomes Riverside Drive.

Get out on the river with a canoe or kayak rented from Higher Pursuits, River Rat Canoe Rental or Yanahli Kayak & Canoe Co., all in Columbia, TN. It's the best way to see the wildlife—from bass and gar to herons, turtles and otters.

What to See: Animals
The Duck River contains more species of fish than all of the rivers of Europe combined and has more fish varieties per mile than any other river in North America. Overall the Duck supports a remarkable diversity of freshwater animals in its waters, including 151 species of fish, 60 freshwater mussel species, and 22 species of aquatic snails.

Among the rare species living in the Duck River are mussels such as the birdwing pearlymussel and the Tennessee clubshell, and fish such as the barrens topminnow and the pygmy madtom. Smallmouth bass are also commonly found in the river.  In addition, the river harbors a number of larger mammals, reptiles, and birds, including river otters, beavers, mink, hawks, osprey, and herons. Freshwater mussels have disappeared across much of the United States. But the Duck River is one of a handful of rivers in Tennessee where they have survived and are still thriving. Because mussels are sensitive to pollution, their presence is a reliable indicator of water quality – for humans.