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Visiting Your Old Kentucky Home

<i> Herring is a Winston-Salem, N.C., free-lance writer. </i>

The steely blue-gray eyes of dawn appear slowly as the black lashes of night are lifted little by little and then disappear to the other side of the world.

As the rooster crows his proud alarum, Sarah rises and steps into her long, rough cotton skirt and buttons the sleeves of her shirt. Jake pulls on his suspendered trousers and tugs at his heavy boots, as he smells the welcome fragrances of coffee and bacon coming from the kitchen.

A few cardinals greet the morning with a bright “Cheerio!” and a dog barks as the sky lightens and crickets cease their chirping.

The whole earth seems to spring to life once more, as Pa trudges across the clover-carpeted field to the barn, where he hitches the pair of oxen to the sled that will bear the wood Jake and his brother Luke have begun sawing.

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Sarah is busy sweeping the plank floor of the kitchen, where she will spend most of her day shelling peas and peeling potatoes, then stirring the simmering pot of lunch while talking with visitors who pass through her domain. She pauses for a moment to breathe deeply at the cool morning air that gives a momentary respite from the summer’s sultry heat.

Nostalgic Scene

In the smaller house from which Pa emerged, Ma, too, is sweeping, but afterward she will spin cotton into thread that she will weave into a shawl or a rug, or perhaps crochet into a lacy tablecloth. She also keeps watch on the basket of straw in the corner where her best hen has chosen to lay her eggs this morning, and warns her guests not to disturb the setting bird.

If this nostalgic scene from the 1850s seems inviting in its simplicity, you may step right into it from the bustle of 1986 by heading for the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Land Between the Lakes. It’s on a 170,000-acre peninsula, two-thirds of which lies in Kentucky and one-third in Tennessee.

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The congressionally funded project is free and open to the public. Acquired in 1963 by the TVA, the area between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley is intended to demonstrate examples of outdoor recreation, environmental education and resource management. It is more than 20 years old, but continues to live up to its goals.

In the Homeplace, 16 original log structures, visitors may wander freely among the buildings, chat with the “family” and even help with daily chores such as sawing wood or feeding the horses.

Uncomplicated Life Style

Many school groups come here, as well as families, not only to enjoy the serenity of the uncomplicated life style but also to learn about our pioneering heritage.

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To demonstrate to the public how the sound conservation of wildlife can protect a resource, the TVA manages a herd of American bison on a 200-acre fenced pasture adjacent to the Homeplace. The buffalo roam freely and can be observed from your car. According to wildlife biologist Bob Smith, “Fortunately, buffalo breed well in captivity, and the existing herd is maintained at about 50. Since the original 19 animals were placed here 15 years ago, TVA has removed 139 in thinning operations.”

In contrast to the Homeplace is the contemporary Empire Farm, a demonstration in self-sufficient living. There a large number of domestic animals make their homes, and the visitor may observe activities such as sheep shearing, gardening and fiber weaving and programs on various aspects of food, fiber and shelter.

At nearby Woodlands Nature Center, naturalists conduct programs on natural resources and resource management. Two special members of its staff are a red-shouldered hawk and a barred owl, either of which may be featured in the programs.

Not Always So Quiet

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Land Between the Lakes was not always a quiet natural preserve. In the 1830s and ‘40s the loud, harsh tones of hot pig iron bars clanging against each other were heard above the bird songs, and the smoke of white-hot smelting furnaces dominated the air instead of the wood smoke rising from homestead chimneys.

The area was known as “between the rivers” when Thomas Tennessee Watson arrived in the late 1830s and began buying up iron ore deposits and prospective coaling lands, forested areas that served as resources for the charcoal used to fuel the furnaces.

Industry Flourished

Soon great stone furnaces dotted the peninsula, as the iron industry flourished for a while, but with the death of Watson in 1846 all except one of the operations shut down. In 1912 the last fire in Center Furnace, the longest in action, died for good. Today its crumbling walls serve as shelter for small creatures of the forest, and a quiet trail marked with signs telling the history of the region’s iron industry circles it. The beautifully preserved Great Western Furnace still stands across from the Buffalo Range near the Homeplace.

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An almost endless variety of outdoor activity is offered at Land Between the Lakes. More than 200 miles of hiking trails weave a web across the land, and a canoe trail follows the water. An off-road vehicle area is provided off the Trace, the road that runs north and south through the park. Swimming is allowed in both Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley as well as in the interior lakes, and numerous picnic sites are marked throughout the park.

Fishing and boating opportunities abound on both lakes: Speedboats, sailboats, fishing boats and houseboats may be rented from several private marinas outside the park. Twenty-three inland ponds have been stocked with bluegill, bass and catfish.

Fishing Derby

Each fall, between Aug. 15 and Oct. 31, a fishing derby that awards $6,500 in prizes is sponsored by the Kentucky Lake Vacationland Assn. in Marshall County, Ky. Hunting is allowed during authorized seasons for waterfowl and 10 species of game. (Ask for the “LBL Hunting Guide” for dates and regulations.) Target ranges for archery and firearms are provided for practicing the safe handling and use of weapons.

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For all types of campers, opportunities abound. Three large family campgrounds are equipped to handle most recreational vehicles as well as tents, and offer athletic courts and equipment, archery ranges, hiking and biking trails, and extensive planned recreational programs.

Primitive camping is allowed in informal areas, as well as just about anywhere within the boundaries of LBL. At Wranglers Camp, campers with horses can be accommodated. No reservations are necessary; all sites are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.

TVA offers complimentary group tours. Individually tailored itineraries may be arranged for groups of 12 or more. Group tour coordinator Joyce Mattingly suggests that a particularly educational way to see this multifaceted region is to focus on a single theme, such as history or wildlife, to acquire more appreciation of one aspect of the project.

Group camps range from the fully equipped dormitories at Brandon Spring Group Camp to primitive Camp Energy.

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You might want to schedule your visit during the winter when several naturalist-guided Eagle Tours are given. In 1984, 84 bald eagles were counted wintering in the LBL region. Individuals would have a difficult time seeing the rare creatures along the 300 miles of LBL shoreline, so park naturalists have begun studying favorite nesting spots and give field trips into the bays and coves where eagles are known to perch or feed.

Multimedia Theater

Information Stations are at both the north and south entrances to Land Between the Lakes, and the Golden Pond Visitor Center in the center of the park, features a planetarium and multimedia theater.

Astronomy and orientation programs are scheduled daily except Tuesdays, and there are exhibits on energy, the history of the TVA and resource management at LBL. Maps and information about the entire LBL region are available at all three locations. (Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)

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There are no commercial facilities on LBL property, but on both shorelines there are numerous restaurants, marinas, resorts, shopping centers and attractions. State parks with lodges, golf courses, riding stables and marinas are near each entrance in both Kentucky and Tennessee.

For more information contact TVA, Land Between the Lakes, Golden Pond, Ky. 42231, phone (502) 924-5602.


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