Cruising down Cahaba

Published 9:05 pm Friday, October 23, 2009

With the recent levels of rainfall and cool fall weather coming on, it continues to be ideal conditions for exploring the landscape along the waters of the Cahaba River.

I experienced a three-hour canoe trip with the guidance and expertise of David Butler of Canoe the Cahaba.

I was grateful for his proficiency and knowledge of the river as I juggled my note pad, my camera and the paddle. Butler, who grew up near the Little River in Kentucky, has been canoeing and kayaking since the age of 8.

Butler and Alabama Small Boat contribute to local ongoing maintenance for this incredible resource and eco-system we often take for granted.

“Along with introducing this sport to the public, we do a lot of clean up and removal of fallen limbs and trees. We constantly pick up litter and believe me, soaking wet dirty diapers and beer cans are not my idea of objects that should ever be found along here, but they are all too plentiful,” Butler said.

“Once we counted 154 old tires in a 5–mile length of the river.”

Soon after boarding our canoe in Buck Creek, we passed through stands of the famed Cahaba Lily, now patiently awaiting their next debut come May.

It seemed to be a fortuitous time to see snakes sunning on the rocks during our trip and turtles of varied sizes. One may also catch glimpses of beavers, river otters and muskrats.

We were preceded down the river by a large Great Blue Heron, a creature Butler knows well.

This heron swoops ahead, waits for the canoe to come near, then takes off again, never allowing the gliding boat to pass him. Butler’s favorite bird is the stockier Green Heron that bait fishes by catching bugs and dropping them into the water before diving to catch the fish that are lured.

The 191–mile long Cahaba has more species of fish per mile than any other river in North America and is the primary drinking water source for the state’s largest water system.

These facts I learned when the Cahaba River Society representative, still wet from netting crawfish and mussels, spoke at the Helena Library, impressing the importance of preservation upon young minds by allowing them up close views of selected species.

The endangered pebblesnail and 12 other snail varieties have been discovered now thriving in the Cahaba.

We passed several fishermen on the banks, a father and young daughter in the water under the overpass of Shelby County 52 –– he wading and fishing, she splashing along in a life jacket several yards away. No one was swinging that day from the rope, which has a bicycle handlebar grip on the end and is suspended from a high limb.

Butler said the swing has been there and kept in good repair as long as he can remember; that many canoers like to climb up the bank in hot weather to swing and splash to the cooler waters below. David Butler can be reached for single or group canoe or kayak trip reservations at 874-5623.

Laura Brookhart can be reached by e–mail at