Little River (Aloca to Rockford)
|Stretch:||Alcoa to Rockford|
|Difficulty:||Class 0-1 (Potentially 1 portage)|
|Flows:||200 cfs+ on the USGS Little in Maryvillegauge. Lake level max is 813 ft elevation, you can get current level here. At 812.84' elevation the low head dam is 1" tall and you can just run it. Take care as that drop gets taller and a dangerous hydraulic appears.|
|Gradient:||~1 fpm average|
|Put-in:||Aloca Water Plan Boat Ramp|
|Take-out:||Boat Ramp at Co Op Rd in Rockford|
|Shuttle:||3.3 miles, (5 minutes one-way)|
So as part of my cardiac rehab I have been paddling flat water sections of river near home. That took me to paddle from the Rockford Put-in upstream to check out the low head dam up there a few days ago. After finding that the dam was only 1" of gradient drop with the high Loudon Lake level, I decided to head above the dam and paddle a few miles of river down to Rockford. Normally I wouldn't write this up even, but there is currently (2023) a push to try to remove two of the low head dams on the Little (this being one of them) so I thought I would add this write up just so it is documented. Though, I probably should have brought my camera!
Diane dropped me off at the top on the way to take Aster to school. It was a lovely foggy morning with early fall greens with shades of yellow in the forest. The river has a nice forested feel to the shores and a few sections have nice rock walls lining the water. I actually was a bit surprised by the pleasantness of this section, the last hurrah of the Little before it gets inundated by Lake Loudon and the Tennessee River. After about 1.3 miles of paddling you will get to the lake level and flat water. But before that there are a few small riffles and current which made for an easy float for my cardiac rehab. And because of that unexpected current I decided to add 0.75 miles by heading up Caney Branch near the end of the paddle.
Do take note though that you need to check the Lake Loudon level as there is a Low Head Dam. At 812.85' of lake elevation the dam is 1" of gradient and you can just boat over it. But during the winter, the lake drops and the dam gets taller. At 200 cfs it still wouldnt be a problem due to the width, but certainly as flows go up it can become a death trap. So use judgement before venturing past the optional take out upstream. If you find yourself there and dangerous conditions present, you could with effort illegally climb up on the left to the golf course to portage around the dam, or illegally but more easily use the structure to portage on the right. But don't run the dam if bad conditions are present.
One final note about the dam. I find it absurd that from upstream, the only sign warning of what is downstream is on the William Mill Rd Bridge. It is an old faded sign saying "danger, low head dam" and another harder to read sign above it saying "drowning hazard etc etc" in small writing. However, once below the dam there are bouys warning of dangerous waters "ahead" and a huge, easy to read sign on shore saying "dangerous waters ahead." That all makes me think that the powers that be are more concerned about power boaters coming up from the lake and having a propeller or hull strike on the dam rather than recreational boaters floating downstream and the risk of drowning that they have. Disapointing. I hope the dam is removed.
- Island 1 (I): You put-in in small channel around an island. There is current right from the put-in with a small riffle around an artifical kids dam to pool the put-in to play in. Be aware there is a weird concrete structure on the left shore not far downstream, just stay easily away from it.
- Island 2 (I): An island appears, I went to the right which appeared to be the bigger channel and less chance of a brush issue.
- Lake Level/Pistol Creek: It is now flat water... but if the dam is removed, during the winter there is current the hole way to take-out.
- Optional Take-Out: There is a small park at the Rockford Townhall that you could use to take-out if Lake Levels and River Levels won't allow easy passage around the Low Head Dam.
- Low Head Dam: DANGER!. If the Lake below max level, and if the river is above 200 cfs, this dam can pose a drowning hazard. Approach with caution, do not run in adverse conditions. If the Lake is up to max and the river level is low, the dam is barely noticable. Fingers crossed in the near future the dam will be gone.
Take-out: From Knoxville, head south on US-129 for 5.0 miles. Turn left onto TN-168, AKA John Sevier Highway. Drive another 1.0 miles before turning right onto Old Maryville Pike followed quickly by another right onto TN-33, AKA Maryville Pike. Follow this for 2.8 miles to the parking area and boat ramp on your right.
Put-in: Continue south on TN-33 for 2.7 miles. Turn left on Sam Houston Rd. Just after the chain link fence of the Alcoa Water Plant, turn left on a small dirt road which leads to the Alcoa Water Plant Boat Ramp.
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