Congress established this federal recreation area located along the Tennessee-Kentucky border in northwest Middle Tennessee in 1964. Land Between the Lakes (LBL) is a 170,000-acre peninsula between the Tennessee Valley Authority-created Kentucky Lake (1944) and the U.S. Corps of Engineers-created Barkley Lake (1965). The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) initially received administrative responsibility for the park. Creation of the recreational area required the acquisition of 103,000 acres and the relocation of approximately 2,700 people from nine hundred families in the Kentucky communities of Fenton, Golden Pond, Hematite, and Energy and the Tennessee communities of Model, Blue Spring, Hays, and Mint Spring.
Most local residents bitterly resented and opposed their relocation and the consequent destruction of their rural communities. In return, residents were to receive an enhanced local economy, based on tourism and recreation. This new economic potential, however, has never been fully developed. Budget cuts at the TVA have diminished outdoor and public programs at the park significantly in the late 1980s and 1990s. Some commentators, in fact, called for the closure of the park or, at least, its transfer to a consortium of state and local governments. In 1998 Congress approved the Land Between the Lakes Protection Act, which transferred administrative responsibility from the TVA to the U.S. Forest Service.
The Tennessee portion of LBL is home to several important historic sites. A portion of the outer works of Fort Henry, a Civil War-era fortification, is preserved within the park. The Homeplace-1850 is a living history museum that documents and interprets the agrarian lifestyle of Stewart County farm families in the decade prior to the Civil War. The ruins of the Great Western Iron Furnace, a key contributor to the late antebellum iron industry in Tennessee, lie directly on the “Trace Road” that runs the length of the park.
On the Kentucky side, LBL maintains the Woodlands Nature Center, where adults and school children learn about wildlife, geology, geography, botany, and the environment. The Golden Pond Visitor Center features a planetarium. Approximately seven thousand students annually spend a portion of their school year at LBL's two resident camps, Brandon Spring (Tennessee side) and the Youth Station (Kentucky side). Thousands more visit LBL on day trips to learn about history and the environment.
The recreation area also contains an extensive system of hiking trails, campgrounds, biking trails, and one of the nation's largest publicly owned herds of buffalo, an animal once found in abundance in Tennessee. Bald eagles and osprey also were reintroduced at LBL in the 1980s. In 1991 the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization designated Land Between the Lakes a world biosphere reserve in recognition of its status as an internationally significant representative of the world's major ecosystems.