What is the Land Between the Lakes?

The Land Between the Lakes (LBL), as it is known today, is a national recreation area located in Western Kentucky and Tennessee. Comprised of approximately 170,000 acres of rolling hills and mostly hardwood forests, LBL is one of the largest contiguous blocks of publicly owned land east of the Mississippi River. It features over 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline and is almost completely surrounded by nearly a quarter million acres of water.

Once known as "Between the Rivers," this peninsula lies between two gigantic reservoirs created by damming of the Tennessee River on the west bank in 1942, and the Cumberland on its eastern shore in 1961. The peninsula is approximately 40 miles long and varies from eight to twelve miles in width. Since their creation, these reservoirs have been erroneously referred to as Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, hence the name "Land Between the Lakes." Still, most of the former residents fondly refer to the area as "between the rivers."

In 1963, President John F. Kennedy directed the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to create a recreation area in Kentucky and Tennessee that would attract large numbers of visitors and resulting tourism expenditures that would stimulate the regional economy. Some of the land was already in Federal ownership as a result of the earlier establishment of a national wildlife refuge, but most was in private hands and had to be purchased by the U.S. Government, first from willing sellers and later through coercion, intimidation, and eventually by the power of eminent domain. Because of early heavy-handed tactics, and later questionable activities, TVA and its stewardship of LBL remains a bitter controversy throughout the region.

LBL is easily accessed through its northern entrance located at Grand Rivers, Kentucky, or the southern gate near Dover, Tennessee. A paved highway known as The Trace runs the length of LBL with both paved and gravel roads leading to features and attractions on both shores. Activities permitted include hunting and fishing, camping, hiking, bicycling, automobile sightseeing, horseback riding, birdwatching or wildlife viewing, visiting historical sights, and much more. Visitors can also participate in any number of TVA's controversial commercial tours and activities, or spend exorbitant amounts of money in their developed campgrounds and facilities.

LBL was once a hunting ground for the Chickasaw, Cherokee and Shawnee Indians, and was settled by early pioneers, many of whom received title to the land as a result of their service to America during the revolutionary war.

Today, LBL is home to an estimated 1300 plant species, over 600 animal and bird species, along with 76 species of fish found in its streams and embayments. Twenty-three Federally listed endangered plant and animal species can be found in LBL, including bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and the rare Price's potato bean. In short, LBL can and should be a center for environmental education and studies, as well as a paradise for conservationists and low-impact outdoor recreationists.

Unfortunately, and almost criminally, with TVA as its gatekeepers, LBL is rapidly becoming just another tourist trap along the highway. For a few dollars, families can view elk and buffalo at a roadside zoo, buy trinkets and T-shirts at one of its seven souvenir outlets, or grab lunch at the new restaurant or general store. (Bonnie's Sandwich Trailer, a privately contracted experiment in food sales, has been replaced by LBL's own modern facility.


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