Noteworthy Paddle in TAG
Paint Rock River, Jackson County, Alabama
Activities: Paddling, swimming, wildlife observation
Rating: Easy to Difficult
The Paint Rock Valley, which is located in northern Alabama, is surrounded by steep mountains and is home to a meandering, free-flowing river that runs a peculiar shade of blue-green; a color imparted as the water percolates through the limestone underground. Upland tributaries are typically clear as the water emerges from the areas limestone caves and feeds into the Paint Rock River. The lower tributaries are dominated by sand-silt-cobble substrates and are generally not as clear as the headwaters. Most of the slopes and mountaintops in the watershed are forested while the valley is used for pastures, farming corn, soybeans and cotton. The river is 58.7 miles long and is formed in Jackson County, Alabama by the confluence of Estill Fork and Hurricane Creek and flows south until it reaches the Tennessee River at Lake Guntersville.
The Paint Rock River was declared navigable by the Alabama Legislature Acts of 1825, page 78. The act reads:
Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives, of the State of Alabama, in general assembly convened, that Paint Rock River of Jackson County, be and the same is hereby declared a public highway, from its junction with the Tennessee River, up the same to the mouth of Larkin’s Fork.
Section 2. And be it further enacted, that if any person or person shall fell any tree or trees, or build any fish trap or fish traps, or mill dam, so as to obstruct the free navigation of said stream, the person or persons so offending, on due proof thereof, shall be fined in a sum not exceeding twenty dollars before any justice of the peace; one half to the use of the informer, and the other half to the use of the county, and in addition to the fine imposed by this act, the person or persons offending as aforesaid, shall pay one dollar per day for every day such obstruction may be suffered to remain in said stream.
Section 3. Be it further enacted, that this act shall take effect, and be
in force, from and after the first day of March next. (Approved January 4, 1826)
The rivers watershed encompasses about 460 square miles and is considered as one of the most biologically important regions in the state for both aquatic and plant and animal associations. It supports a diverse array of aquatic life, including some 100 species of fish of which one is confined to the Paint Rock River & Kentucky and about 45 different mussel species. More than 12 globally rare mussels are found in the Paint Rock and its tributaries and one of those are found nowhere else in the world.
As filter feeders, mussels are critical to the health of freshwater ecosystems. A single mussel can filter more than 12 gallons of water per day. The Southeast hosts the greatest diversity of freshwater mussels on the planet, and Alabama and Tennessee have several mussel species that are now listed by the as endangered or threatened due to habitat fragmentation and/or degradation.
The Paint Rock River is home to 11 endangered or threatened species, most of which are shellfish; Alabama lampmussel, fine-rayed pigtoe, pale Lilliput, pink mukket, rough pigtoe, shiny pigtoe, snuffbox, palezone shiner, gray bat, Indiana bat and the snail darter (threatned).
The aquatic biodiversity of the Paint Rock River has also stimulated conservation initiatives by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), the Forever Wild program of ADCNR, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) aimed at restoration, recovery, and conservation of aquatic habitat and imperiled species. The Nature Conservancy has established a significant presence in the watershed and completed many projects to restore natural stream channels, improve bottomland forests, restore aquatic habitat, and reduce the effects of agricultural nonpoint source pollution. Land under conservation ownership and management in the Paint Rock watershed includes preserves maintained by TNC, tracts protected by the Forever Wild Land Trust, the Skyline Wildlife Management area including Jacobs Mountain, the Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge, and private land under NRCS easements and programs.
If you are looking to paddle the Paint Rock River you will not find a lot of information on the internet about put ins and take outs. This article will also not provide those as I believe there are some things so treasured that you have to do the leg work yourself to figure it out.
In February 2018, myself along with Jason Hardy and Harold & Cindy Geick set out to paddle this river as this is something that Jason and I have wanted to do for a long time. We wanted to do the upper section since it is seasonal and only floatable in the winter and spring. We had a lot of rain in February so we knew the water would be up and swift. We ended up finding a nice landowner who allowed us to park at their property near the intersection of 146 & 65 and we took out some 8 river miles later near Hollytree. The water wasn’t clear the day we went because of recent rainfalls and we did 8 miles in just under 3 hours. The water was moving and we didn’t have to paddle too much but there were a few hazards. We look forward to a return trip soon when the water levels are more normal.
To check the current water levels on the river you can view the USGS Water Gauge that is near Woodville by going to: