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Dix River (Herrington Lake Area)


Gwinn Island Marina Upstream to Kings Mill Marina & Around Dunn and Gwinn Island


Tuesday, October 21, 2009



I needed a de-stressing day.  You see, I am not a professional website designer.  I’m a complete hack who learns only through an excruciating process of trial and error.  Well a few days ago I noticed that a wrench had been thrown into the workings of this website and that I could no longer add pictures properly - not only that, but the picture on my homepage had completely disappeared! 


Well, in the process of trying to rectify the situation, I only succeeded in taking down the site completely!  It was only in reversing everything I’d done that I was able to bring it back up, but I was still no closer to finding a resolution – and thus faced with the possibility of untold hours of frustration trying to rectify the situation, I really needed to recharge the batteries.  With my mind thus preoccupied, however, today would prove to be another comedy of errors. 


Herrington Lake was close, and I had not yet explored the whole thing, so this is where I chose to paddle today.  As mentioned in a previous journal, Herrington is the deepest and maybe the narrowest of the lakes in Kentucky.  It’s a pretty clean lake, and in this section it’s dominated by rocky shorelines which oftentimes form natural steps down to the riverbank that end at the water in rocky beaches.  Even with these natural steps, however, there are some pretty amazing man-made stair setups out here.  Most are made of wood, but the ones that seem to best withstand the test of time are the ones made of stone, and the construction of some of the ones out here must have involved the skill of some expert stonemasons.



When I arrived at the Gwinn Island Marina facilities I met with comedy #1 – I’d forgotten my wallet (there are no complimentary put-in points on this lake that I know of).  Well, there’s a kind of guard shack out here just before you drive down a steep road which leads to the actual island and marina.  This is where you’re supposed to pay, but since there wasn’t anyone at this station, I got out of my car and asked some guys I saw if they knew where there might be a free put-in point.  They said to go ahead and use the ramp - it wouldn’t be a problem.  I headed down!


The view looking down onto the island from this spot is really amazing, and especially at this time of year with all the leaves changing color.  They have cabins on the island that you can rent, by the way.  Don’t expect luxury, but if you want to come out for a fishing weekend with the guys it looks like they’d do quite nicely.



I put my boat in without incident and started paddling “upriver” ( Herrington Lake is a dammed up Dix River) towards the next marina where I hoped to put-in next time.  I again paddled directly across the lake first though, as per usual, in order that my crossing would be earlier in the day when there are generally fewer power boats on the water.  As I did so immediately noticed how quiet it was!  I didn’t even hear many birds for a while.  Guess what I also noticed?  I’d left my map in the front seat of the car!  I wasn’t going to go back...


A little way up I came to the first junction in the lake.  In fact, there were a few options here.  I’d make a left around the corner to continue upriver, but on the other side I noticed that there were two more possibilities.  These both turned out to be routes around Dunn Island which is right here.  I’d check them out upon my return… 


Anyway, as I made the left turn there were quite a few turkey buzzards hanging out down by the shoreline rocks.  They let me get quite close.  To see these birds soar through the air is truly a thing of beauty, although this beauty doesn’t exactly hold up to closer scrutiny.  These aren’t the most attractive of birds.  Nevertheless, I never fail to see them soaring all around me on every single trip I’ve ever made.  Turkey buzzards, heron, and kingfishers are almost always constant company.



Something that caught my eye very soon after this was what looked like an ancient ramp.  In fact, it was so old that it could very well have been a ferry landing spot on the old river before they put the dam in.  I’m not sure, but it definitely piqued my curiosity!  I’d been noticing some pretty grand homes too.  In fact, it seemed as if just about every spot of shoreline – with the exception of the area around Dunn Island – was property lined today, whether you can see it or not because a lot of times you won’t be able to spot the houses atop the hills until you get to the opposite shoreline.


I’m on a fairly long straightaway at this point and I can see a platform on the water at the end of this stretch which has a walkway leading to it.  The river then curves right, and it was after making this curve that I noticed that someone has a pretty sweet setup, complete with their very own cave!



Then, at the end of a backward “C” pattern in the lake/river (it’s hard to tell where the river ends and the lake begins out here!), I spotted a trio of great looking fishing havens – perfect for that peaceful weekend on the lake.  This “C” also contained some of the nicest looking beach-like spots I’d see today (on the left).



The sight of the Kings Mill Marina would greet me at the end of the next “S” curve.  With room for maybe 50 boats, there’s also a pretty solid looking ramp here.  This spot is just before you get to the bridge over the water for KY34.  They’ve got a U.S. flag painted on the rocks behind where the boats are docked, and across the water from this was the only sandy beach spot that I would see today.


Having witnessed all this, I headed back to circumnavigate Dunn Island.  Before reaching that point, however, I met a very nice couple in a boat.  They told me that they were waiting because they had spilled some gasoline and they wanted it to evaporate before they started their motor – good thinking.  These were the kind of people I could have talked with all day – very easy going and friendly, just like most people you’ll meet out on the water.  They had moved out here from Lexington, and had questions about kayaking which I answered as best I could, but it was only when I left them that I realized that I forgot to ask them more questions about their lake!



As mentioned, Dunn Island didn’t appear to have any homes on it that I could tell, even though there were “No Trespassing” signs around areas that would normally be nice resting spots.  It took about a mile and ½ to get around, but I did take the opportunity to also explore Taylor Creek which enters from the south.  It comes in at the exact mid-point of the back end, and the Key’s Landing Marina and boat ramp are to the right of the entrance.  This facility looked to be smaller than Gwinn or King’s Mill, but it looked pretty classy nonetheless.


The creek went back pretty far, and this area seemed to offer the most privacy I’d have all day – when powerboats weren’t in company, that is!  The paddle-ability ended in a muddy/swampy section at the back, and as I weaved my way as far as I could, I noticed that I was starting to force minnows and a couple larger fish up the creek with me as I went.  At the end I had to be careful when I paddled to avoid hitting them.



Upon emerging from this creek I headed back towards Gwinn Island to try and paddle around it, too, before the day drew to a close.  It turns out that Gwinn Island is an oval shape whereas Dunn Island had been almost an exact triangle.  I started around, but having forgotten the map, I couldn’t quite recall how much there was back here to cover…



Well, the first incoming stream I’d forgotten about, and it went back pretty far too.  I usually like for these to go on for while because I do find them fun to paddle, but it was starting to get dark and I’d have to get back soon, so I regretfully found myself wishing that the stream would end soon.  Feelings like this really bother me because they mean that I’ve become more concerned about getting back that about seeing what a particular stream has to offer.  Whenever this happens I make it a point to come back to the area soon.  The feeling is like that you have when you experience the company of someone you haven’t previously met – someone you find really interesting and fun – but you don’t have the time to fully enjoy that persons company.  You want to see them again soon.  The feelings I had while paddling back here were exactly the same.


Anyway, the stream went back...  And back...  And back, and by the time I reached the end, I knew that I’d probably run into darkness before I could return to the ramp.  It would be OK, though, because after I emerged I was looking at the road which went over to Gwinn Island (the same road I’d driven in on).  No more water to paddle.  I’d just explore this little area, and then head back around the island to the ramp…


No go!  It looks like the water ends here, but I found that it keeps going.  It just curves around this road and goes back into another incoming stream!  I couldn’t do it.  I’d have to forego my goal of seeing everything in this section today.  I also decided to try and take out right here – on the opposite side of the road from the ramp.  It wasn’t easy.  The slope at this point isn’t that bad, but with the shifting rocks under my feet, my path up to the road was one of slips and slides as each step threatened to send me tumbling back down into the water – with my gear on the first trip up and with my boat on the second!  It was only with great patience that I eventually got everything back up to the car.


On my way out I could hear a rock band playing at the top of the hill in one of the buildings, and after taking some more pictures of the view down to Gwinn Island and the river/lake, I was on my way back home.




From Lexington I took KY33 south after making the turn off US68 at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill.  After passing through the stop sign in Burgin, Kentucky you’ll go just over 4 miles until you see a few little signs for the marina on the left (you’ll see Old Shakertown Road on your right just before this.  This particular road is very interesting in that it will, almost immediately, curve right back towards you and intersect with you again, to continue anew on the opposite side.  This is exactly where the aforementioned signs are.  If you miss the first turn on the left (Old Shakertown), that’s OK, because you can take the next one too - Gwinn Island Road!  Both will take you where you want to go.  Follow Gwinn Island Road all the way back and there you are!


…and always remember:  “Wherever you go, there you are!”