The Gift of Good Land:
Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural
Land Between the Lakes is a tract of 170,000 acres, lying between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley on the Tennesee and Cumberland Rivers. TVA took it over about a decade ago as a “demonstration in conservation-based recreation.” Of the 170,000 acres, 75,000 were already publicly owned. The rest–95,000 acres–was comprised of farms, homesites, and timber lands belonging to, among others, 949 “resident families”–2,738 people in all.These people were moved out because, according to a TVA ruling, private holdings “would be a deterrent to maximum public use of the area.” They were, of course, “compensated,” but for the most part, they were strongly attached to their homes and communities, and gave them up in grief and in protest. Those who would not consent to the price offered by TVA were forced out by condemnation under the “right of eminent domain.” The removal of these families was justified by one TVA official partly on the ground that their way of life “never quite succeeded.”
It is an ugly story of the tyranny of “public service”–the homes of “the few” high-mindedly sacrificed to the “recreation” of “the many.” Once this obliteration of the settled human life of the place has been forgotten, Bill Martin says, then it may be possible to be simply grateful for this large nature preserve. But he says so, knowing what will be lost in the forgetting. Pleased as I was to see the buffalo and the woods and the renewing meadows of tall grass, I would much have preferred to see the 2,738 people back at home. But we have no beauro for accomplishing that.
-from the essay The Native Grasses and What They Mean (1979)
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