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Reelfoot Deep Swamp Paddle

In the winter of 1811 and 1812, four powerful earthquakes rocked the region around the New Madrid fault line. Shocks from the quakes, which remain the largest ever recorded in the Eastern U.S., were felt as far away as Quebec. When the tremors ended, a section of land in the northwest corner of the state had subsided, creating a large depression that became Reelfoot Lake. Today it is a land filled with life, a diverse ecosystem that supports a wide variety of aquatic animals, waterfowl and other creatures. It’s also home to some ancient trees. Wild Side Guide Ken Tucker takes us on a canoe trip deep into a swampy forest filled with beautiful cypress, including some that are hundreds of years old.

Since the water level on the lake fluctuates with the seasons, the deep swamp canoe floats are generally only available in the spring when the water levels are high enough to float the canoes. The canoe trips depart from Reelfoot Lake State Park‘s Visitor Center at 1 p.m. on Saturdays and 9 a.m. on Sundays throughout March and April and last about three hours. There is a cost of $20 per boat if a park canoe is used and private canoes are no charge. Participants should pack snacks, drinks, a change of clothes, camera and binoculars in a waterproof, floatable container. Reservations are required and can be made by contacting the Reelfoot Lake State Park’s Visitor Center at (731) 253-9652.

Of course the canoe trips are just one of many fun activities available at Reelfoot Lake State Park throughout the year. For more information about all that’s going on, visit the park website or follow them on Facebook.

The park’s ecosystem is unlike any other place in Tennessee. Reelfoot lake is a flooded forest. While majestic cypress trees rise above the water, below the surface are many submerged cypress stumps. A variety of aquatic plants and flowers occupy the shoreline and saturate the shallow water. The lake harbors almost every kind of shore and wading bird as well as golden and American bald eagles. While eagles can be found at the lake year-round, January and February are best for viewing these majestic raptors. Experienced park naturalists lead daily bald eagle and waterfowl tours and the annual Reelfoot Eagle Festival in February is a bird watching destination.

While the shallow lake offers many opportunities for boating and fishing, swimming in the lake is not permitted. The park has several hiking trails that are popular for bird watching and wildlife viewing. There are two campgrounds at Reelfoot Lake State Park. Campsites provide water, electricity, tables and grills with many campsites located on the lake shore.

One of the most iconic plants found at Reelfoot is the bald cypress tree, a member of the redwood family. Unlike most conifers (which are evergreen), bald cypress trees are deciduous conifers that shed their needle-like leaves in the fall. In fact, they get the name “bald” cypress because they drop their leaves so early in the season. Their fall colors are tan, cinnamon, and fiery orange. The feature that bald cypresses are really known for, though, is their “knees,” cone-shaped structures that grow up above the ground from underground or submerged roots. These knees tend to develop more on trees growing in water than on trees growing on dry land. While some scientists theorize the knees help roots exchange gases (transporting air to water soaked roots underground) or give the trees extra support in the wet, spongy ground, the fact is they don’t really know what they do. While bald cypress adapt well to wet conditions in swampy areas and along riverbanks, they will also grow in dry areas and are often planted as ornamental trees.

From show 2804