CHAPEL HILL, Tenn. (WKRN) – Henry Horton State Park and the Duck River are certainly not hidden landmarks in Tennessee. But many may not realize that the river and the wetlands next to it are extremely important to the area’s ecology.

Samantha Davenport, a Park Ranger Henry Horton State Park has a degree in Biology and is an expert on the importance of the Duck River system.

“The Duck River is extremely unique, specifically for its bio-diversity,” Davenport explained. “It is the most bio-diverse river in North America. But it’s also one of the most bio-diverse in the world. And it’s one of three hot spots for fish and mussel species. This pretty much means that we have a lot of endemic species that only live in the Duck River. And also, it’s a threatened area. So, we want to make sure we preserve and protect it. This river specifically is the longest river within the entire state of Tennessee, and it runs around 280 miles. The different type of organisms that you will find here is all the organisms from plants, animals. But specifically, mussels, fish, and aquatic snails are what it is really known for.”

And it might sound strange, but mussels are important to the water we drink.

“Mussels are very important for filtering water,” Davenport pointed out. “So what we like to call them, and what we teach people that come here for our river programs and our education programs, is that mussels are ‘filter feeders and river cleaners’. So, it’s kind of a catchy way of remembering that we want to protect these mussels because they help to clean the river. They are indicator species. And so, they will let us know what the water quality is like. So, we want to have a lot of mussels because we want that water filtered since it is the main water source for many people in Middle Tennessee.”

And just as important are the wetlands next to the river. And Henry Horton State Park has restored the wetlands that existed there in the past before it was made into farmland.

“Wetlands are extremely important for eco-systems,” Davenport said. “They’re one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world. Just because of the vast amount of organisms that live here. We have everything from micro-organisms like bacteria, plants, small macro-invertebrates, insects, things like that, reptiles, all the way to mammals like deer. So, it’s very diverse.”

You can almost think of it as a biological super-market because we have so much going on. And so many organisms use that for breeding grounds, for food, and just for habitat in general. So, they’re very important for the wildlife.”

There is a three-quarter-mile trail that traverses around the wetlands and connects with the other trails. They also offer guided hikes on that trail, as well as others, and a guided river float on the Duck River itself. To learn more, visit the Henry Horton State Park website and click on “Activities” to see all the different things you can do there.