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Kenlake History

Established March 13, 1948

Located on the western shore of Kentucky Lake, Kenlake State Resort Park became part of the commonwealth’s state parks system on March 13, 1948, when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) leased 1,795 acres to Kentucky. President Harry S. Truman signed the transfer papers. As early as 1944, Gordon R. Clapp, general manager of the TVA, wrote, “Although exact predictions can not be made as to future demands for public use of the recreational resources to be provided on Kentucky Lake, the opportunities for post-war recreational development and use would seem to be unparalleled in the general region.”

Clapp realized the potential of Kentucky Lake as a future recreational resource. The Kentucky Dam impounded the waters of the Tennessee River covering a huge area. Kentucky Lake covers 160,000 acres of which 48,000 are in Kentucky. It is the largest of the Tennessee Valley chain of lakes. Kentucky Lake has a larger area than any other manmade lake in the United States. In overall storage capacity the lake stretches 184 miles from Kentucky Dam at Gilbertsville, Kentucky to Pickwick Landing Dam downstream from the Tennessee-Mississippi-Alabama state line. This immense reservoir has 2,300 miles of shoreline between Kentucky Dam and Pickwick Dam.

Kentucky Dam rises 211 feet from its bedrock base and stretches 8.700 feet across the Tennessee River. Completed in 1944, the dam cost $115 million. The TVA acquired a large tract of land in Marshall and Calloway Counties, Kentucky adjoining the western portion of the lake. The TVA named the site Aurora Landing.

The need for flood control in this area had long been a concern of local residents. Devastation from the record-breaking flood of 1937 wrecked havoc on the communities, farms, and towns along the Tennessee River. By 1944 local citizens formed the Kentucky Lake Association. The Association worked closely with state and federal officials to plan the developments that would one day become Kenlake State Park. In 1946 the Commonwealth of Kentucky began negotiations with the TVA to lease the Aurora Landing site for a state park dedicated to recreational purposes. TVA gave a lease of 1,146 acres to Kentucky. On November 8, 1965, TVA leased an additional tract of 302 acres to the park. After the transfer of land, Aurora Landing received a new name. The park became Kenlake State Park.

By careful and thoughtful planning, Kenlake’s development projects turned rough lakeshore into one of the best resort parks in the nation. At the time of Kenlake’s inclusion in the Kentucky State Park System, only one privately owned boat dock served the area. The state purchased Higgins’s Boat Dock and made it a part of the new park facilities. From 1948 through 1949, work continued at the park. Bathhouses, beach development, cottages, picnic areas, roads, and parking places were constructed, enhancing the park’s magnificent natural ambiance. As the first resort park to be built on a major reservoir in Kentucky, Kenlake set the standard for future resort developments.

Kenlake had a unique feature -- a separate park for black citizens. During the closing years of legal segregation, the state set aside an area named Cherokee Park, adjacent to Kenlake. The facilities in this park met the same standards as other state parks. Cherokee Park operated for a number of years until the early 1960s when it became part of Kenlake.

By 1955 Kenlake represented the most modern park in the Kentucky system. As the commonwealth began to build new resort parks, Kenlake received nearly a million dollars between 1960 and 1968 to keep it updated and equal to other state parks. The park remains one of the most popular resorts in Kentucky.

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