Kentucky Lakes, Ponds and Reservoirs
An autumn view of Nolin Lake. (Photo courtesy of the US Army Corps of Engineers. Photographer: Ken Crawford.)
What's the difference between a pond and a lake? Not much. A lake is a body of water surrounded by land. So is a pond. But smaller "lakes" we call ponds. A reservoir is also a pond or a lake, but this term is generally used to indicate an artificial lake, or impounded waterbody.
Kentucky has hundreds of lakes, the larger ones all being artificial impoundments of running rivers and streams. Our largest natural lake, Swan Lake, is located in Ballard County, in far western Kentucky. It covers an area of approximately 300 acres. Compared to Kentucky Lake, also in the western part of the state, which encompasses over 160,000 acres, Swan Lake is quite small.
Approximately 51,000 acres of Kentucky Lake lie within the boundaries of our state. The majority of the waterbody is part of the state of Tennessee.
Kentucky Lake holds the distinction in the United States, of being the largest artificial reservoir east of the Mississippi River. The lake was formed by the impoundment of the Tennessee River at Kentucky Dam, 22 miles upstream from its confluence with the Ohio River and is a major source of hydroelectric power.
A canal connects Kentucky Lake with Lake Barkley, (shown in the aerial photo at right), another large man-made reservoir created by a dam on the Cumberland River near Grand Rivers, Kentucky. Barkley Dam was built approximately 38 miles upstream from where the Cumberland runs into the Ohio River. Lake Barkley runs parallel with Kentucky Lake for 50 miles, creating the eastern water boundary of the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. This man-made wonder attracts thousands and thousands of tourists each year to the beautiful area known nationwide for its outdoor activities.
Other dams on the waters of the Cumberland River create Lake Cumberland in south central Kentucky, and Old Hickory Lake, east of Nashville, Tennessee.
Lake Cumberland, meandering through parts of Clinton, Laurel, Pulaski, Russell, and Wayne counties in south central Kentucky, is the largest lake entirely within the boundaries of Kentucky. Its 50,000 plus acres, (at normal pool), attracts an average of a quarter of a million visitors each month and brings over $150 million into the economy of the surrounding area each year.
Kentucky's oldest impoundment, Dix Dam, built on the Dix River in the 1920's, created Herrington Lake in Boyle, Mercer, and Garrard counties. Close by in neighboring Lincoln County, is Cedar Creek Lake, Kentucky's newest reservoir. This approximately 800 acre lake, which finished filling in 2003, is owned and operated by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Another interesting waterbody, Reelfoot Lake was created by the New Madrid Earthquake of 1812, and lies mainly within the state of Tennessee. A small portion of the lake extends northward into Fulton County, Kentucky. The lake is a popular stopping place for migrating waterfowl and a winter nesting spot for the American Bald Eagle.