Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area

Location: Golden Pond, Kentucky

Webpage: US Forest Service

General Description: Prior to the Civil War the main industry in 1840-1850 was iron furnaces at 8 locations in the Between the Rivers area.  With ample supplies of high yielding iron ore, hematite, limestone, and forests for charcoal it was a highly profitable business producing pig iron to ship using the rivers.  With a demand for around 200 workers at each furnace, a small community grew up around them.  This all came to an end with the Civil War as the area came under the control of the Union Army when General Grant captured both Fort Donelson and Fort Henry in 1862.  The area was largely abandoned and fell on hard times.  While families still tried to survive in the area they never recovered.  Following the Civil War, timber companies bought up huge tracks of land to harvest the trees, mostly for railroad ties.  This set up an opportunity for the federal government to acquire land, starting when the TVA was created under FDR to build a dam on the Tennessee River completed in 1940.  This flooded much of the land along the western side of the area which was condemned under Eminent Domain and forced the removal of the people.  This obviously did not sit well with the local inhabitants.  Plans were immediately begun to also dam the Cumberland River in such a way to make both lakes the same elevation so a canal could be constructed between them.  Due to previous experience the local residents resented the condemnation of their lands, especially when it was explained to them that everyone had to move even if they would not be flooded so the entire area could be turned into a park.  The process took many years to complete with the Barkley dam finally being built in 1960s.  Part of the settlement was to either move their homes to new locations across the river or to have them demolished.  This was also true for land on the eastern side of the lake which effectively moved a number of small towns to higher ground.  Thus was created the Land Between the Lakes National Recreational Area which was consolidated under the management of the US Forest Service for multiple use.  In total the area spans over 170,000 acres of second growth forests containing miles of hiking, biking, horseback riding and off-road vehicle trails.  In addition to a Visitor Center in the center of the area, there are also Welcome Stations at both the north and south entrances with full information about recreational opportunities.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) Along with the many miles of trails there are four main attractions for visitors.  The first is the Visitor Center located in the middle of the park.  Except for a small area with displays about the history of LBL, there is not much to see at the Visitor Center.  It is a good place to obtain information about the area, but most visitors obtain this at one of the two Welcome Centers as they enter the park.  There is also a small planetarium that gives 30 minute programs every two hours throughout the day.

VisitorCenter

2) Near the Visitor Center is the Elk and Bison Prairie, a 700 acre enclosure with a nice driving tour through it.  Using prescribed fire, the Forest Service is working to enhance the natural prairie that existed in the area prior to European settlement.  Historically the native Indian tribes would also periodically burn the area to improve the habitat for bison and elk.  Early settlers commented on the large bison and elk herds that lived there.  Recommendations are to visit the prairie early morning or just before sunset for the best opportunity to spot the small herds of reintroduced elk and bison.

3) South of the Visitor Center, in Tennessee, is the 1850’s Working Farm and Living History Museum.  With live interpreters working on the farm, it represents a typical two generation farm for the area.  It is two generation since there are two homesites, a single room log cabin, and a two story dog-trot home that would eventually be built for an expanding family.  Along with annual crops and gardens using heirloom varieties there are the typical farm animals including chickens, ducks, cattle, sheep, hogs, and mules.  In addition to farming, live interpreters perform a number of tasks including weaving, sewing, cooking, leather working, and blacksmithing.

4) North of the Visitor Center is the Woodlands Nature Station.  This area is basically a small zoo of native animals that have been “rescued” over the years and for multiple reasons cannot be released into the wild.  Inside there are a few exhibits of small reptiles, snakes, and native fish and outside are multiple birds and mammals.  Notable examples are a bald eagle, opossum, coyote, and red wolf.  On the property is also a short interpretive walk through the remains of the Center Furnace and community that grew up around it.