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Ghost Story

First-time canoer communes with the river.


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As we loaded our canoes into a swampy stretch of the Ghost River near Moscow, Tennessee, I asked my guide and canoe-mate, Keith Kirkland, if we'll be unloading at the same spot when our four-mile river tour is over.

"Yep, the Ghost River is the only river in the world that makes a full circle," Kirkland said with a mischievous grin.

Needless to say, I'm a little naive when it comes to the river, any river. Not only did I fail to realize that Kirkland was teasing, I also had no idea how close Memphis is to such a serene, beautiful body of water. After just an hour's drive, 15 Memphis residents (including me) recently set out in canoes on the marshy area of the Wolf River known as the Ghost.

Our canoe trip was a precursor to the Wolf River Conservancy's upcoming Wolf River Day. On September 12th, Memphians will have a chance to become familiar with the local stretch of the Wolf with canoe trips, a nature walk, wildlife displays, a green expo on the V&E Greenline, and a sneak peek at the future Wolf River Greenway. Events will take place across the Memphis area.

Stretching for about nine miles, the Ghost portion of the Wolf is so named because folks have a tendency to get lost among its twists and turns. Thankfully, the path is marked with blue signs nailed onto the Cypress trees jutting out of the murky water. And of course, we also had a couple of able guides — Kirkland and director Steve Fleegal — from the Wolf River Conservancy.

Throughout our three-hour canoe trip, Kirkland pointed out native plants, such as spatterdock lily pads. We also saw bright-red cardinal flowers, which bloom in the late summer and early fall. The beavers and mink were hiding, but their dams posed a challenge for our canoes in a few areas.

"Back in 1996, [the land around the Ghost River] was purchased by a timber company, and they were going to cut down trees on the south and north side of the river," Fleegal said. "It's a long, complicated story, but eventually, the conservancy got grant money to purchase and save the property."

Midway through our journey, Chuck Skypeck, master brewer at Ghost River Brewing, treated us to ice-cold cups of Ghost River Golden drawn from a small keg in his canoe. Locally owned Ghost River Brewing sources its water from the Memphis Sands aquifer, which recharges in an area near the Ghost River.

As we paddled to the home stretch, it dawned on me that we weren't unloading in the same area where we put in. Instead, we pulled our canoes onto land near Bateman Bridge, four miles from our starting location near Leatherwood Road. I turned to Kirkland with a quizzical expression.

"You know what they say about river guides?" Kirkland asked. "If they're moving their lips, they're probably lying."

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