The earth cracked, the river flowed backward and a dramatic, new landscape took shape. The New Madrid Earthquakes of December 1811 through February 1812 caused soil liquification, warping, landslides, fissuring and ejections that forever changed the northwest corner of Tennessee. A series of four violent earthquakes felt as far away as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, Virginia, formed Reelfoot Lake. Some eyewitnesses reported that the Mississippi River flowed backward for 10-24 hours to fill the lake crater.
Almost 100 years later, another type of violence followed, and the governor called on the state militia to restore order to Reelfoot in the wake of a longstanding disagreement on who owned the lake. Vigilantes called Night Riders kidnapped the lawyers representing the company claiming to own the lake and murdered one of them. The other swam to safety under a hail of gunfire. Although eight men were initially convicted in the kidnappings, procedural errors overturned the verdict, and no one was ever punished. Eventually, the courts reversed their previous decision on the ownership of the lake and declared it to be public property.
The lake’s unusual scenery has attracted several film companies and continues to draw visitors who take pontoon and canoe trips into the remote areas to see wildlife, including bald eagles and other water fowl. Reelfoot was the site of the last active bald eagle nest in Tennessee in 1961. With the banning of DDT and other pesticides, bald eagles returned to the state in 1983 near Dover, Tennessee. In 1987, bald eagles returned to Reelfoot Lake as a nesting species. Presently there are approximately 25 active bald eagle nests in the Reelfoot area.
The bald cypress trees create a fascinating waterscape and an interesting habitat for lesser known flora and fauna. The park is one of the greatest hunting and fishing preserves in the nation, encompassing 25,000 acres (15,000 of which are water). Its many species of flowering and nonflowering plants attract botany enthusiasts from all over the country. Cypress dominates the margins of the lake, but many other trees and shrubs are also present.
Tennessee Vacation eGuide
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