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A PEARL of a TOUR; A GEM of a DESTINATION Or should I say, Birdsong Resort, Marina and Campgrounds
It's more than meets the eye. That is, the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Museum located at Birdsong Marina on the scenic Tennessee River's beautiful Kentucky Lake. I was looking forward to the museum and to learn about pearls. But I did not know of all the things to do at mile marker 103.7 LDB.
The Tennessee River Pearl Museum is tucked away inside the main building of the combination marina office, boat sales office, boating supply store, and pearl showroom. The large building houses all these, plus it has a small auditorium for showing an introductory video about the pearl farm. The owners, Bob Keast has operated the museum and marina since 1980. Bob Jr. originally moved to Birdsong when he was 10 back in 1961 with his Mother and Father, Lorrine and Bob Keast, Sr.
Birdsong Marina sits on fifty-eight acres in a quiet embayment in the Birdsong Creek one and a half miles from the main channel of the Tennessee River, just south of the New Johnsonville US 70 Bridge. Land-wise, it is nine miles north of Tennessee's Interstate 40 at Exit 133 / Birdsong Road and Hwy 191 N. I hesitate to call it a marina, or a pearl museum, because it is both of these and more. That is why the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Museum and Birdsong Marina is a great place to stopover. If I want to stop off there while navigating the river, there are twenty-six cabins for rent, and plenty of things to do during the visit. Two of the cabins are adjoining and combined have nine bedrooms and can accommodate twenty-five people. There is a community center large enough to host a family reunion or Church group.
Another option is the RV Park. It has fifty sites with hookups, most of which have a view of the water tucked in amongst the oaks and pines. The campground is also near the community center. This would be a good location to host rallies or just be a great place to hook up and kick back. There is plenty of tenting area too.
The marina has 140 slips, a fuel deck for regular gasoline and diesel, and space for five transient boats. Plans are in the works to increase that number to ten, as well as make other improvements in the overall property.
The marina harbor has an approach depth of twelve feet and is well buoyed. The marina is open all year around from daylight to dark, monitors channel 16, and accepts all credit cards.
The main reason for my visit to Birdsong Marina was for the Tennessee River Pearl Museum and Farm. The auditorium where the introductory video is presented also serves as the pearl museum. There are displays around the room on the pearl-culturing operation, implanting techniques, pearl facts, and historical items. After viewing the film and taking in the exhibits in the museum, I walked into the showroom and another section of the museum. The showroom had all sorts of pearl jewelry on display, and also for sale. The other museum contained items from the Civil War. Relics that were recovered from boats that had sunk in the area were on display. There were other displays, but I was very interested in the Civil War items. Bob Keast has a wealth of information on the region and is somewhat of a self proclaimed historian and certainly an Ambassador of Tennessee.
The pearl farm is in the quiet waters of the embayment. Conditions were most favorable in these waters, as the founder, John Latendresse, of the pearl farm had several pilot locations to begin his operations. The freshwater pearl happens to be the State Gem of both Tennessee and Kentucky. That is also strategic for the Pearl Farm. And the Pearl Farm is the only freshwater culturing farm in North America. Freshwater pearls are rarely found in nature. At the pearl farm, the Washboard Mussel is the host for the culturing of the final product. Bits of organic material are implanted into the mollusk. As a defense mechanism, the mollusk coats the organic material with a protective layer. Over time – three to five years – the material with its coating develops into a pearl. But not the pearl you see on display in the showroom. To get the pearls, divers go under water to harvest the mussels. Actually, there are several thousand of baskets underwater in the "farm", which are noted on the water's surface by three acres of rows hosting PVC piping. Upon emerging with the goods, the process of "shucking" the mussels is performed. It is not unlike shucking corn, except the mussels are pried open with knives and the contents are removed in search for the hopeful end result – the pearl.
The Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Museum and Farm offers guided tours of various lengths. They are offered from mid-April through mid-November if the weather cooperates. Advance reservations are preferable. There are full tours that take from three to five hours. Mini tours take from one to three hours. The full tour consists of an orientation to freshwater pearls (as opposed to saltwater pearls), history of pearls, and a history of the Tennessee River Freshwater Pearl Farm. A diver will retrieve a basket of mussels and "shuck" one of the implanted mollusks. Then the visitor will learn about how the retrieved pearl is cultured. After the lessons and demonstrations, a catered BBQ lunch is provided, and finally a visit to the showroom provides an opportunity to see and purchase a final product from the farm. Prices of the tours vary from $10 to $55 depending on length along with a walk-in "Mini-Pearl Tour" with just the video and a shopping experience.
The pearl farm is unique and a popular stop along the Tennessee River halfway between Pickwick and Kentucky Dams and halfway between Memphis and Nashville on I-40. There are many reasons to visit the farm and museum, besides the fact that it is one of a kind. It has many other facets than a pearl farm and museum. A boater can dock at the marina, stay in one of the cabins overnight, visit the museum and take the farm tour, then he can use the courtesy car, and visit one of the restaurants in small west Tennessee town of Camden within nine miles of marina. A true southern hospitality destination operated in the same family tradition since 1961 where their business is your pleasure.
Request a free vacation guide, view our e-guide version, or download our iPad app.
255 Marina Road - 9 Miles North of Exit 133 on I-40 - Camden Kentucky Lake, Tennessee 38320-9699
Monday - Saturday 9-5
Call for Sunday hours
731.584.7880 or 731.584.0230 - General Info/Guide Service/Rentals
731.584.7880 or 731.584.0230 - Boat Sales/Pearl Tours
731.584.1996 - Bob's Home "Land Line"
615.351.2628 - Bob's Cell Phone
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