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Landing 'em between the lakes.

In the 1920s, when this land was known as Land Between the Rivers it was a wild, rocky ridge of woodland pressed in the ten-mile gap between the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. Locals, hard-pressed to wrest a living from such a landscape, turned its Golden Pond area into a bootleg capital for the mill and factory towns of surrounding Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee, and Illinois. Eventually, the moonshiners were put out of business, and the Tennessee Valley Authority purchased the homesteads and timber holdings in the 40-milelong strip. Dams were built virtually side-by-side on the northbound rivers, and a canal was cut to link the vast expanses of the new Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. The Land Between the Rivers had become Land Between the Lakes.

Today, Land Between the Lakes, or LBL, is a 170,000-acre multi-use park surrounded by 220,000 acres of lake water and operated by TVA. Many fishermen rate its crappie fishing as the best in the country. The north flowing Tennessee River brings up threadfin shad, smaller and tastier than the tough northern gizzard shad common to other lakes at this latitude. Vast schools of these bait fish are hunted by crappies and a growing population of bass. Bass are often seen herding shad in the lake, to the point that the surface of the water explodes with panicked prey and voracious predators. In winter, the threadfin grow sluggish, easy targets for eagles or fish. Spring brings schools of shad migrating north once more, to start the cycle all over.

Because of LBL's management, hunters can find virtually every habitat imaginable and game that ranges from wild turkeys to white-tail deer to coyotes and quail. But the sportsmen who visit LBL account for only part of the park's visitors. LBL's 200 miles of trails attract hikers, bikers, and joggers. Wrangler's Camp appeals to the horsey set with three barns, campsites, and 24 miles of trails to work the mounts. Another 2,350 acres are set aside for off-road vehicles, where they are strictly confined. A vast waterfowl sanctuary is home to migrating birds and a permanent population of everything from woodpeckers to raptors. (In winter, birders are taken by vans to secluded bays where eagles work the icy margins of the lakes.) History buffs can visit a living history farm or follow the Fort Henry Trail south on the route taken by the Union Army. At Fort Donelson outside the park, U.S. Grant received his first unconditional surrender, which many feel turned the comer for the Union.

Naturalists can compare management techniques by observing a large tract of virgin hardwoods set down beside a managed clear-cut woodlot, or another parcel of southern pines periodically burned to prevent hardwoods from taking it over. Less obvious are the 50 ongoing environmental research projects or the periodic review of every foot of LBL. As a result, LBL is being designated a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO as of November 1990.

To explore LBL, visitors can start on the main 60-mile North-South Trail. It roughly follows the ridge of LBL, peeling off with paved or gravel roads leading to hollows that were once farmsteads, or to one of the 20 inland ponds and lakes, or to creeks that flow down to broadening bays. Midway along the Trace, which is the park's main road, is Golden Pond Visitors Center and its theater, planetarium, and observatory. Many visitors walk the entire North-South Trail and sleep in the five Quonset shelter areas along the route, which free them from lugging a tent. There are no restaurants in LBL, though snacks are available and there are many picnic areas. Rather than walking 60 miles, a person, might prefer stopping at Woodlands Nature Center and taking the 2 1/2-Mile walk around Hematite Lake, with its photo blinds where you can observe waterfowl and game. It's not necessary to leave the car on the 2mile Kentucky Lake Scenic Drive, which gives a panorama of LBL's origins and the valleys beyond.

Park experts stress that LBL is not just another park to be "done" in an hour or so. Those who must limit their time should concentrate on a few major attractions; a day and a half with a night of camping is ideal. The amenities not found within park boundaries are often only minutes away. As one park regular said of the LBL area's options: "You can go from back wilderness to 18-hole golf courses and buffet dining in ten minutes." A Things to see and Do in LBL


In season there are about 100 formal programs ongoing each month. Some 80 college interns help the regular professional staff, most of whom have degrees in natural resources. A sampling: lectures about snakes; demonstrations of raptors in flight; night trips in park vans to observe animals in their habitat;, wildflower walks in the morning. At Woodlands, see live animal displays with familiar white-tail and unusual fallow deer on the grounds.


The Homeplace-1850 is a living history, 19th-century farm, complete with log outbuildings, equipment, and animals. Historic interpreters run the "family farm." The men do chores and field work, drive the oxen team, mend fence, cut wood, or work with the main cash crop, tobacco. Women spin wool or flax, chum butter, and cook. Often the big pots are fired up for wash day. At times there are blackpowder shoots, and on the Fourth of July, a celebration with fireworks and traditional games. Each year in early October, a couple is married off in an 1850s wedding.


Near the Homeplace is the largest publicly owned buffalo herd east of the Mississippi. About 50 of these wooly tanks range on a patch of native prairie. (They are not domesticated or given to interpretive speeches.)


Empire Farm uses many conservation techniques to reduce chemical use and employ solar energy and organic gardening. Visitors can approach the baby lambs, kid goats, or calves at the livestock pens for viewing and petting. Practical demonstrations include how to make Golden Pond Moonshine.


Most of the five campgrounds around LBL have showers, electric hookups, picnic areas, and boat ramps. The family campgrounds offer playground equipment, a multi-purpose court, and evening entertainment. For two seasons, LBL has also allowed open camping where land is not posted, which includes long stretches of shorelines.

At the cottages at Youth Station Group Camp, about a quarter million kids, grades K-12, have participated in environmental-education programs up to a week long. The camp is surrounded by a 5,000-acre environmental-education area open to everyone and a working demonstration farm.


Many staffers feel the fall is best for visiting LBL, because the weather is moderate and the colors spectacular. Count on variable weather in spring. Fishermen looking for crappies come in March and April, bass fishermen a little later. October and November are popular with deer hunters and bowmen. Protective buffer zones around the visitor areas plus ample warning signs protect nonhunters. Ticks are common from mid-March to mid-October.


LBL is 50 miles north of I-40's route in northern Tennessee. It is centrally located for western Kentucky and Tennessee, only two hours from Nashville, three from Memphis, and four from St. Louis.
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Title Annotation:includes list of attractions in Land Between the Lakes Park
Author:Mueller, Bill
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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