By Morgan Winter
As the humidity and temperature rise this summer, we look for an escape from the heat— and what better place than Kentucky Lake? A popular destination with fishermen, boaters, birdwatchers, and campers for over 75 years, Kentucky Lake was formed in 1944 when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) dammed the Tennessee River at Gilbertsville, Kentucky.
At its inception, Kentucky Lake and its sister lake, Barkley Lake, created controversy. “Back then you had people on both sides— for and against— the creation of Kentucky Lake” explained Shawn Dunnaway of Explore Kentucky Lake, “most of those against would have been directly impacted by the lake’s creation, meaning they had to move their homes, farms, businesses, and even cemeteries.”
Kentucky Lake rests at an advantageous part of the Tennessee River. Paris Landing State Park, in particular, is a perfect example. 18th-century French traders used the river as a highway for trading with local indigenous peoples. A century later, the Union and Confederate armies used it for transporting troops and supplies, leading to multiple fortifications along the river—Fort Henry, Fort Donelson, and Fort Heiman (near Murray, Kentucky) to name a few.
Kentucky Lake continues this commercial legacy. The lake, as a whole, generates $1.2 billion dollars solely from sportfishing. In 2017, Henry County—where Paris Landing State Park calls home—saw over $56 million dollars in revenue. Kim Schofinski, the Deputy Communications Director of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation revealed that “more than half that can be directly connected to the lake and the traffic it brings to the community”. Tourism is Henry County’s second largest industry and it’s no wonder why. The TVA donated the land to Tennessee as a “scenic area appropriate for recreation”.
There aren’t any towns that sit directly on the waterfront. There are, however, small towns nearby that offer plenty to do outside the lake. Paris, Tennessee holds the World’s Largest Fish Fry, the 70 foot Eiffel Tower replica, and the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge, and plenty of opportunities for antiquing local eateries, and quaint locally owned small businesses. To the north, there is the Land Between the Lakes with its living history farm, planetarium, Nature Station, and Elk and Bison Prairie. The lake also holds fishing tournaments, poker runs, and live entertainment at various marinas, such as The Breakers Marina.
The Breakers Marina is another great spot. They operate from April through September, weather permitting. On the water, it’s just north of Paris Landing’s marina, in Swan Bay with 108 boating slips with plans to expand over the next couple of years. Rental boats are available, but it’s wise to call ahead and reserve them.
They’re open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, including holidays. “We are so privileged to have the talented musicians that live in our area,” Edwards explained. Their lineup this summer features Waymore Outlaws, Levon, River Dan, The Ark Band, Idlewild South Allman Bros. Tribute, River Dan, Fortunate Sons and much more! It is one their biggest draw and part of the reason for their expansion.
The Breakers Marina Restaurant could only seat 50 people and served hot dogs and hamburgers. Now, over 200 customers enjoy a wide variety of meals comfortably. “We try to throw in a Floridian spin, giving it a beach atmosphere at a place you can find in Tennessee,” explained Rookie Edwards, owner, “We love meeting new customers, tourists, and all of our regulars”. Wedding receptions, private parties, and other events find themselves at The Breakers Marina.
People flock to Kentucky Lake from all over the United States. In the summer, most come for the fantastic fishing, boating, swimming, and camping. Paris Landing State Park offers primitive campsites, cabins, and hook-ups for RVs or glamping— some of which are right on the water. The park also boasts a 72-par 18 hole golf course with fantastic views of the lake from holes 4 and 12. Osprey nests off holes 12 and 5. For Kim, “boating and fishing top the list. The park features a full-service marina and a public boat launch...the best way to get a bite is by boat”. Paris Landing has multiple beaches and a pool for visitors to take a dip in and plenty of room for all: the widest point of the lake is 3 miles.
However, you don’t have to own a boat with a motor to enjoy Kentucky Lake. Shawn made his own observations. “Kayaking is becoming a big deal at Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. Land Between the Lakes has established designated water trails on both lakes to encourage folks to explore the shoreline via kayak or canoe. [It’s] really taking off”.
As for the best time to visit? “It’s always a good time to visit Kentucky Lake” in Kim’s opinion. For Shawn “it depends on what you want to do”. Spring and fall are best for fishing. Summer, of course, is best for swimming, boating, and watersports. In winter, eagle tours are available “Winter waterfowl at the park attracts birders from across the country” Kim shared.
Kentucky Lake has abundant wildlife that lives and rents around the lake. Bald Eagles and osprey nest near the water. The Land Between the Lakes offers van tours and cruises in January and February. The Paris Landing State Park has an aviary behind the south main office with 5 owls and a Bald Eagle. The birds were rescued and rehabilitated. If they are unable to be released into the wild, they stay in the aviary and educate visitors about raptors. All the rangers at Paris Landing are certified interpretive guides: you aren’t in a classroom, you’re going on an adventure. Paris Landing “routinely offer[s] opportunities for volunteers to help beautify the park and remove invasive plants and clean up trails...For the kids, we offer Junior Ranger Camps, swimming lessons in the pool, and host a boating safety program every year”.
When asked about the one thing everyone has to do when visiting Kentucky Lake, both Kim and Shawn recommended checking out the Danville Grain Elevator and Danville Railroad Bridge. The elevator sits about a quarter mile south of the bridge in the middle of the lake. A house was built on one of the spans of the partially removed bridge!
Kim shared her favorite local places— a burger from LL’s Bar and Grill is “hard to beat” and stopping by Trolinger’s is a must. Sweet Jordan’s, covered in this issue, satisfies your sweet tooth.
For more information, check out www.fourriversexplorer.com, www.explorekentuckylake.com, tnstateparks.com, and www.thebreakersmarina.com.
Paris Landing State Park
16055 Hwy 79 N
Buchanan, TN 38222
Land Between The Lakes
238 Visitor Center Dr
Golden Pond, KY 42211
The Breakers Marina
526 Shamrock Rd
Buchanan, TN 38222