Land Lost, Families Fight for Heritage
By Brett Barrouquere
GOLDEN POND, Ky. First, they lost their land. Now the people whose families were evicted in the 1960s to create a vast nature preserve in western Kentucky and Tennessee are wrangling with the U.S. Forest Service over how to present their history to visitors. Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area is a peninsula of forests and ridges between two dammed river valleys whose serene backwoods atmosphere was created in part by tearing down small towns and burning farms. The U.S. Forest Service is currently preparing a heritage management plan for the area, which will determine how the history of the land and its people is presented. That has triggered complaints and a letter-writing campaign from displaced residents worried they will not have enough of a voice in deciding how their story is told for future generations. The Forest Service is pitching a plan to commemorate some sites and do archaeological digs in others. Land Between the Lakes program director Kathryn Harper says the former residents are as welcome as any other member of the public to comment and offer ideas. The former residents, however, want more say over what is presented as the history of the area, how it is presented and what the Forest Service will and wont allow visitors to do. Weve got a relationship with the place that nobody else will ever have, said David Nickell, whose family first came to the area nearly 250 years ago. Its still our heritage. Were still using it. The root of the dispute dates back more than four decades, when the Tennessee Valley Authority forcibly removed hundreds of families from the low-lying farmland between the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The TVA dammed off the rivers, creating Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake and flooding some of the farmland. The Kennedy administrations original idea behind Land Between the Lakes was to create the largest nature preserve east of the Mississippi River an area that looked like it had not been touched by human hands. Four decades later, the area is a hunting, hiking and biking mecca, with some areas, such as the Bison and Elk Prairie, remaining as nature preserve. The creation of Land Between the Lakes included tearing down the towns of Golden Pond and Twin Lakes and demolishing and burning many of the farms and schools that dotted the more than 170,000 acres. But family cemeteries and parts of some buildings still stand in the area. The last families moved from the area in the late 1960s. The TVA transferred the land to the Forest Service in the 1990s. Since then, the former residents and the federal government have battled over commercialization of the land, including the introduction of campgrounds, tours and a planetarium. The former residents dont want their land back, nor do they want to give their own tours of the area. Instead, they want to place markers, restore some historic sites and return a sense of the place and culture that existed between the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers for more than 200 years. To them, the land is a legacy and provides a sense of identity. Even now, the self-described Between the Rivers natives can point out their old homesites, as well as where friends lived and where businesses and churches stood. Groups of former residents restored the St. Stephens Church and still care for the various family cemeteries that remain, keeping the grass mowed, putting up grave markers and making them useable for former residents who wish to be buried on their ancestral lands. The cemeteries are all weve got left, said 72-year-old Margaret Baccus Chambers, whose family land is now under Lake Barkley. The former residents want the right to put up markers and restore old schools, homesites or churches quickly, sometimes over a weekend. They would like the Forest Service to grant them consulting party status for the heritage program, which would allow them some say over how the history of the area is presented. The Forest Services plan calls for documenting historically significant sites, preserving them and creating a public interpretation and education program about the heritage resources in Land Between the Lakes. The government also runs The Homeplace, a collection of 1800s-era buildings complete with staff members in costume, and does archaeological digs. Jamie Bennett, the heritage program manager for Land Between the Lakes, and James Bedwell, director of heritage resources for the U.S. Agriculture Department, said the former residents were welcome to join the rest of the public in crafting a heritage program. Opening the plan up to public comment allows people from California to Kalamazoo to decide how our heritage is presented, said Chambers sister, 68-year-old Della Baccus Oliver. The idea that someone else, an outsider, would have a say over how their history is told is tough for former residents. Many, such as Nickell and Oliver, view themselves as having moved away, but never really having left the homeplaces of their childhoods and memories. And, they arent ready to give up on preserving them. They only bought the land, Oliver said. They never bought the heritage.
Originally published by The Associated Press.
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