BY BOBBIE FOUST
Herald Ledger Staff - Lyon County, Kentucky - http://www.heraldledger.com
"You've got us by the heart," said Harold Dixon of Murray summarizing the feelings of many who lived between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers before the government took the 170,000 acres 43 years ago to create Land Between the Lakes.
About a third of LBL lies in Lyon County.
Dixon was among two dozen people attending a recent meeting in Benton hosted by the U.S. Forest Service to gather public input regarding LBL's heritage.
The Forest Service, which manages LBL, is preparing to implement its heritage management plan, and those turbulent years when many property owners were removed from their land by force is a part of the region's heritage.
The old wounds were apparent, not only in Benton but also at an Eddyville meeting Saturday.
Jamie Bennett, heritage manager at LBL, appeared impatient that those forced out of "between the rivers" don't trust the government and want the Forest Service to promise in writing that it won't use their history to make a profit.
"I think you are seeing more and more all the time that people from between the rivers really have this sort of uneasiness about dealing with the government and knowing whether or not we can trust them," said David Nickell, a sociologist at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.
Nickell, who favors preserving LBL heritage, said he believes much of the hesitancy could be overcome if the Forest Service would make the commitment in writing that "this is going to be your heritage."
Nickell said he has in writing a statement from LBL Manager Bill Lisowsky that one of his primary concerns is that "between the rivers" people not be given a louder voice regarding this heritage than newcomers ... who might find it interesting.
He said he agreed no one should be excluded in terms of "putting together a program" and in terms of how the public learns about it.
"But in terms of preserving the heritage of what is important from our perspective -- not some objective criteria somewhere -- but to us, to the local community who lived there, there are mechanisms in these legal structures that are designed specifically to do that," Nickell said.
"You can do that right now," Bennett responded.
"But we need the Forest Service to take that step too," Nickell countered.
Bennett insisted: "You can go out and do anything you want right now to organize those people so they are telling their own story."
People have asked Bennett if she has any idea what she's doing soliciting historic stories from former residents and thereby opening old wounds.
"If we don't start (the heritage plan), we're never going to move on," she said.
"We're going to move on," Dixon said. "There's another problem -- we don't trust the government, that's a given -- but the government doesn't trust us."
Though most seemed to believe their heritage should be preserved, some also say their stories -- the ugly and the good -- are their "intellectual property" and once the government acquires the stories, they might be turned into a profit-making tourist attraction.
Bennett said she couldn't change the past, but the heritage plan provides former residents an opportunity to tell their stories in their own way.
Greg DeWolf of Bumpus Mills, Tenn., suggested that former residents publish their history in a series similar to the nationally acclaimed Foxfire series.
"I'm a transplant ... I'm a retired veteran," DeWolf said. "I want to know what your history is; I want to know the good and bad, not just your pain. I'd like to know what your pleasures were; about your family; about the area where you grew up. Unless you want to tell that, let it all rot because it's going to die with you. ... I'm asking you to share your stories."
Bennett said not all former residents feel bitter toward the government. She indicated some want to look toward the future.
"There are native Americans saying 'We're tired of coming back and talking about what it was like; we want you to know who we are now.'"
Identifying and marking church and school sites could become the first project in the Land Between the Lakes heritage program.
By consensus, more than 30 people agreed during a meeting in Eddyville on Saturday that identifying such sites would be the best project with which to start. Most of those at the meeting had formerly lived between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers or were descendants of former residents of the region that became LBL.
"I think we should start with schools and churches," said Ray Parish, president of Between the Rivers Inc.
Parish grew up in the Twin Lakes area of Lyon County. Under his leadership, BTR has won national awards for its work in restoring St. Stephen Catholic Church, identifying and cleaning hundreds of cemeteries in LBL and helping to secure the Medal of Honor for Andrew Jackson Smith, a runaway slave from the Bend area who distinguished himself in fighting for his own freedom during the Civil War.
"Schools and churches were the nucleus of the community," said Margaret Chambers of Eddyville. "They took them first; they took the nucleus first," she added, referring to the Tennessee Valley Authority, the government agency that created LBL.
Jamie Bennett, LBL's heritage program manager, said she has $3,000 available from this year's $86,000 budget to buy posts for signs at the sites.
Home sites and and cemeteries were also mentioned.
"We've worked on cemeteries for 10 years," Parish said. "Cemeteries are located and documented pretty well."
Bennett said she would record the home sites. "I've got 43 home sites in the Cemetery Ridge area alone ... and they will be sent to the state Historic Preservation office," she said.
She asked those attending to bring their ideas to a meeting at 1 p.m. April 14 at the Forest Serivice's administration building at Golden Pond. At that meeting, the different groups will begin to outline the projects in which they are interested.