Reelfoot Lake is in Lake and Obion counties in northwest Tennessee. A portion of the lake extends into southwestern Kentucky near the town of Fulton, and the lake lies approximately 3 miles east of the Mississippi River. It is the largest natural lake in Tennessee encompassing more than 10,000 acres of water and another 5,000 acres in marshes and hardwood wetlands. It is estimated that more than 40% of the lake has a depth of 3 feet or less. Approximately 30,000 acres of the lake and the surrounding marshes and watersheds are protected. Management of the lake is vested with 3 primary agencies, Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
Late in 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake caused huge spasms and convulsions that rocked much of North America. The major force of these shocks were centered in the Reelfoot Lake area, which was then a huge cypress forest. On December 16th, the earth’s surface rose and sank and the Mississippi River actually turned and flowed backward, pouring into a hissing abyss. This mighty quake created the awesome Reelfoot Lake when more than 15,000 acres of forest land sank beneath the level of the river. Naked trunks remained and one of the world’s greatest natural fish hatcheries was created.
Historical records show that Davy Crockett hunted in the “land of the shakes” during the early 1830’s. Hungry animals and a huge variety of waterfowl moved into this area and make Reelfoot a significant wildlife preserve. Crockett stated in his autobiography that he killed 108 bears in a single year at the lake and frequently made camp at the Bluebank Bayou. Crockett is well remembered in the area, and his hunting cabin still stands south of the lake on State Route 45W.
Reelfoot Lake State Park preserves one of the region’s most unique environments and has a rich Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) history. In 1934, a company of 200 men began building well-crafted Government Rustic style check-in buildings for hunters and fishermen. The CCC continued its work on the park until 1938 when it turned its attention to building two wildlife refuges. The area is a winter home to a large number of waterfowl, such as coots, mallards and Canada geese. It is also famous for nesting eagles who feed on the abundant of fish in these waters.
Reelfoot Lake became a Tennessee State Park in 1956. Most of the facilities today date to the 1960’s and 1970’s, although the Blue Pond area has a restored CCC check-in building and picnic shelter. A new visitor’s center, complete with an aviary, natural displays, and interpretive signage is slated to open in September 2020. The lake is a popular year-round destination and robust directional signage guides visitors to the area from state routes 21 and 78.