Location: Big Sandy, Tennessee
Webpage: National Wildlife Refuge
General Description: The Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge consists of three units, Big Sandy, Duck River, and Busseltown, that stretch for 65 miles along the Tennessee River. It was established in 1945 as part of the construction of Kentucky Lake to provide winter and nesting habitats for migratory birds along the Mississippi Flyway. Consequently, the refuge includes mud flats created when TVA lowers the water level for the winter, estuaries, shrub/scrub areas, bottomland hardwood forests, and agriculture crops. The habitat is rich in wildlife diversity with 306 bird, 51 mammals, 89 reptiles and amphibians, and 144 fish species. While most of the refuge is accessible only by boat, it does have 2 hiking trails, 4 observation decks, multiple boat ramps, and a driving tour of the Old 23rd.
1) Be sure to start you exploration at the Visitor Center located south of US 79 and just north of Big Sandy, Tennessee. The have a short video about the history of the refuge, along with its mission and success. There are a number of animal exhibits, as well, and the volunteers are more than happy to provide maps and hiking opportunities on the refuge.
2) There is an nice 0.5 mile trail at the Visitor Center that they use for school trips and presentations. It is a pleasant walk through a bottomland hardwood forest. Unfortunately, there are no views of Kentucky Lake except at the end of the trail. Since the water level had been lowered in the lake for the winter, we decided to make a loop out of the trail and walked back along the shoreline.
3) While it is a bit of a trip from the Visitor Center to the Big Sandy Peninsula, we found it to be worth the trip. This is the location of the Old 23rd Voting District, which was the only name for the community that lived on this peninsula before the TVA bought their land and moved everyone out to construct Kentucky Lake. If you are interested, pick up the Driving Tour brochure for the Old 23rd. There are a series of numbered stops along the tour where the brochure provides information about the families that lived here. As part of the sale agreement, the families had to either move their house or the federal government demolished it. The only surviving structure is the Fairview Church of Christ Church that is still used to hold an annual get together in July.