Between Barkley and Kentucky Lakes – two great, artificial bodies of water in western Tennessee and western Kentucky – lies a wooded land that looks from above like the flattened thumb of a green giant. Once a land of marginal farms and small settlements, this 240-square-mile peninsula, known as the Land Between the Lakes, has been a national recreation area for the last half-century. Its rolling, wooded hills and open bottomlands give the place charm but little majesty. The place swallows up its few campgrounds and visitors they attracts, creating a vacuous tranquility. In The Land Between the Lakes, Foresta explores how this forgotten and bypassed region became a national recreation area. He uses its history to retrieve our old attitudes toward nature, progress, and personal development. He also uses its history to retrieve a vision of the future that rallied idealists, intellectuals, and even public officials to its banner.
In the early 1960s, the Tennessee Valley Authority set out to create a great park for posterity at the Land Between the Lakes. The park was to host the vast stretches of leisure that wealthy, secure, and more equal Americans of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries would have at their disposal. It would be a place where such Americans could turn that leisure into happiness, psychic well-being, and strength of character. The TVA cleared the land of its inhabitants to create the park, removing people from their homes and severing their roots, thus effacing the history of the place. It then set about reshaping the land in the image of an anticipated future. But when that future never arrived, managers struggled to fit the place to the America that actually came into being. In the end they failed, leaving the Land Between the Lakes enveloped in a haunting sense of emptiness.
A deft blend of environmental history, geography, politics, and cultural history, Land Between the Lakes demonstrates both the idealism of mid-twentieth-century planners and how quickly such idealism can fall out of alignment with the flow of history. In so doing it explores a forgotten vision of the future that was in many ways more appealing than the present that came into being in its place.
"From its promising launch to its ignominious relegation, the Tennessee Valley Authority's controversial LBL recreation project attracted national and international attention. In Ron Foresta's capable hands, readers are treated to so much more than a simple chronicle of an idea gone awry, Indeed, he shows us what can happen when we fail to adapt our thinking to changing circumstances. More important, he reminds us how terribly difficult it is to predict – let alone plan for – the future."
– Geoffrey L. Buckley, author of Extracting Appalachia: Images of the Consolidation Coal Company, 1910–1945