History of the Land Between the Lakes

In President John F. Kennedy's original conception in the early 1960's, the Land Between the Lakes (LBL) was to be part of a great nationwide land reclamation project for the purpose of preserving wilderness areas. While keeping it in as near "wilderness condition" as possible, it would be made accessible to the people for low-impact recreation such as fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, boating, and environmental education.

Although President Kennedy's vision has much we may admire, much of the land which was to become LBL was owned by families with deep roots in the area. When the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) sought to buy this land, many individuals and families did not want to sell. Thus, TVA finessed or forced acquisition--in some cases invoking eminent domain. In an effort to justify this painful process, TVA made promises that were in line with the Kennedy mission, which it publicly endorsed and elaborated on--a pristine condition, devoid of "all vestiges of commercialization" was to be created by removing the estimated 5,000 inhabitants, and this condition would be maintained.

The following briefly sketches the history of LBL which--with all its successes--is still a history of broken promises and mismanagement by TVA and federal officials.


The residents of the land between the Cumberland and the Tennessee rivers had already been the victims of the government's power of eminent domain before the idea of a "Land Between the Lakes" recreation area had ever been formed. A large federal wildlife refuge had forced many to relocate. The construction of Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee river, forming Kentucky Lake, had forced more families from their homes while flooding some of the most pristine of the forest land and the very best of the farm ground. The construction of Barkley Dam on the Cumberland river, in the early 1960's, was repeating this process. Being entrenched by many generations of residence, most of those relocated found new homes between the rivers. Before the "grand idea" of taking the remaining ridge between the two reservoirs was even formulated, some of the residents--many tracing ancestry back to land grant payments for service in the revolutionary war--had been forced to relocate three times. This provided the context in which the news of the formation of the "Land Between the Lakes" was received.

Even before land acquisition for the LBL began, promises and assurances made by state and federal officials to the landowners in the future LBL area were altered or broken. For example, Kentucky Congressman Frank Stubblefield sent a strong protest to TVA Board Chairman Aubrey Wagner "accusing him of misleading statements" to the effect that the small towns of Golden Pond, Twin Lakes, and a corridor four miles wide along Highway 289 would not be taken from the owners.

From the beginning of the acquisiton of land for the LBL in 1964, many of the landowners who had no choice but to sell their homes and farms and businesses to TVA were mislead and mistreated. A significant number of these residents had lived on their places for five, six, or more generations. Those who appealed the non-negotiable deal found that TVA only lowered the offered price.


In July of 1963 TVA offered a definition of the recreation it envisioned in LBL:

It will include "only those activities that could be pursued by tourists who wanted to visit a protected area. If people wanted lodging, food, drink, or supplies, they would have to leave...to buy what they wanted. They could then return to the camping areas, but the managed environment would be protected."

The tourists attracted to the unique LBL would spend their money at locally owned and operated businesses and services, and thus the economy of the surrounding region would be enriched. . Thus, all commercial activity within the area must cease. The land and business owners within were told this was the reason they must sell and vacate.


The official dedication of Barkley Lake Lock and Dam took place in August, 1966. By this time, a canal between the two lakes--Kentucky and Barkley--was open to traffic. That year, TVA received a federal appropriation of $11 million for the LBL project. Several hundred thousand visitors were coming each year, and TVA's Resource Development Officer Milliken was already suggesting that commercial sales of groceries and other items within LBL might be necessary. such plans were being aired when the dust had hardly settled on the privately owned small businesses which had been bull-dozed or inundated in keeping with President Kennedy's vision for LBL.


As federal appropriations for LBL decreased in the 1970's and 80's, more plans for making LBL more "self-sufficient" were floated. User fees and entrance fees were added.

Meanwhile, development consistent with LBL's original mission was carried out. The Woodlands Nature Center, the Empire Farm, the Youth Station, a multimedia theater, a Wildlife Restoration Center and the Homeplace 1850's--all fell within the mission of education.

Then, beginning in 1987, TVA began commercial activity within LBL and has slowly yet steadily increased such development. In 1987, there was a basic change in policy and mission for LBL, and the following year TVA initiated drink machines and the sale of ice and firewood. A gift shop was opened at the Golden Pond Center and grocery sales soon followed. Various rentals, intensified commercial logging and other means of supplementing income were added.


In 1996, a new low point--a new level of betraying the public trust--was reached as TVA openly renounced its promises to the former landowners and its limited mission of "preservation, recreation, and education." Five Concepts for varying degrees of commercial development were offered to the public. these included a resort hotel, golf course, theme park, and land leases to private entrepreneurs. When reminded that such activity would be on land taken from landowners so that no commercialization would ever occur, TVA belittled such ancient history.

The public outcry against TVA's Five Concepts forced their official withdrawal. However, in 1997, work continues on a complex which includes a tack store, bunkhouse, and restaurant for wranglers camp users, and another grocery store.


In addition, logging on LBL continues. This commercial logging is yet another instance of a broken promise to the former residents and the public at large. In addition, much of it is at a net loss. This year TVA proposes to increase this activity to a staggering 5.7 million board feet.

Needless to say, such activity greatly stresses the more than 120 species of flora and fauna on the federal and state lists of endangered or threatened species.

Moreover, TVA's extensive pine planting appears to be for further timber sales.


Early in 1997, TVA Board Chairman Craven Crowell proposed that Congress eliminate the TVA's annual $106 million appropriation for its "non-power" operations--including the Land Between the Lakes. Therefore, most of those in the region see LBL's existence at a crisis point. After committing itself to be the responsible steward of the LBL, now TVA proposes to fund its operation by exploiting the resources the LBL was intended to protect; and to bring in the commercialization it was intended to exclude.

The history chronicled above would seem to indicate that TVA may in the next year-- if it fears Congress will remove it from LBL--take action detrimental to the 176,000 acre tract or at least accelerate down the same path of broken promises, commercialization and mismanagement. Help us at the Concept Zero Task Force to see this doesn't happen.

Early in 1998, it appears as though the battle over LBL has intensified. Legislation that will determine, by legal statute, how the LBL is to be managed, will likely be submitted before Congress this year. Powerful special interest groups are attempting to gain influence on what this legislation will look like--and whether the promises and intentions of LBL will be maintained. Too many people look at such a resource and see only dollar signs. Only public input (YOU) can assure a future that keeps the promises and the original mission by balancing the many interests. Please contact your elected officials!

The material above is documented in Professor Betty Joe Wallace's Land Between the Rivers, Austin Peay State University Press in Clarksville, Tennessee. There are several other good histories of LBL available.

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