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Breakdown: Why the Hatchie Scenic River in West Tennessee is the state’s most unique river

The Hatchie River and unique floodplain that surrounds it was once the hunting grounds of the Chickasaw Indians. The area is preserved now as a waterfowl refuge and part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.
Published: Feb. 6, 2022 at 5:56 AM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Rising from Northern Mississippi and flowing through Southwestern Tennessee, the Hatchie Scenic River is a treasure of wild scenic beauty and is of considerable geographic, cultural, and historic significance.

The Hatchie River has been named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the 75 great places to save.
The Hatchie River has been named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the 75 great places to save.(West Tennessee Delta Heritage Center)

In large measure because, unlike most Mississippi River tributaries that have been straightened and levees constructed for flood control, the Hatchie River is the last unchannelized river of its type, making it the the longest continuous stretch of naturally meandering river in the lower Mississippi River Valley.

The Hatchie River area contains the largest forested floodplain in Tennessee, and is an important aquatic and terrestrial area.

The Hatchie River is a complex ecosystem encompassing bottomland hardwood forests, canebrakes,...
The Hatchie River is a complex ecosystem encompassing bottomland hardwood forests, canebrakes, swamps, sloughs, rivers, and lakes. These habitats support one of the most diverse systems in Tennessee.(tn.gov)

Additionally, it’s the only river in Tennessee designated a state scenic river in its entirety.

Because it has remained undammed and largely unchannelized, the natural flood processes that drive the ecosystem are intact, sustaining the river and wetland habitats that support a rich ecological diversity. The bottomland forest are beneficial in slowing ravaging flood waters, filtering sediment to improve water quality, and it produces immense amounts of timber.

Cypress trees hanging over Champion Lake at Lower Hatchie NWR. 

This land is managed by the U....
Cypress trees hanging over Champion Lake at Lower Hatchie NWR. This land is managed by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and is one of 4 National Wildlife Refuges managed from the West Tennessee complex office in Dyersburg.(The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The topography of bottomlands is characteristically flat, but slight variations in elevation are associated with considerable differences in soils, drainage conditions, and forest species composition.

Situated along the lower 17-miles of the Hatchie River is the Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Tipton and Lauderdale Counties.

With over 11,000 acres, this area was established in 1964 to benefit migratory birds with an emphasis on wintering waterfowl management.

Secondary objectives were to protect, manage, and enhance the ever diminishing bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem, to protect endangered species, and to protect, manage, and enhance habitat for other species of wildlife and plants, and to provide compatible public use opportunities, according to The National Audubon Society.

The Lower Hatchie NWR is one of over 560 National Wildlife Refuges, and wildlife and fisheries thrive in its almost pristine watershed ecosystems and is one of the nation’s wetland treasures.

The area is home to over 200 species of birds, including bald eagles, Mississippi kites (a Tennessee In Need of Management species), wild turkey, neotropical songbirds, waterfowl, shorebirds, as well as numerous species of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, birds, and insects.

Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge is not only for wildlife, it’s also for people. Recreational activities include hunting, fishing, wildlife observation, photography, nature study, environmental education and interpretive opportunities. Contact the refuge office for information on tours for school and other organized groups.

This seasonally flooded, lowland forest ecosystem with its abundant fish and wildlife is one of the many features that makes Hatchie such a special place for wildlife and people.

The Hatchie River has been named by the Nature Conservancy as one of the 75 great places to save.

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