Breakdown: Why Reelfoot Lake is Tennessee’s most unique lake

Published: Oct. 24, 2021 at 2:00 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Situated in northwest Tennessee in Lake and Obion counties lies Reelfoot Lake: an 18,000-acre natural area that includes about 10,900 acres of open water and marshes and nearly 7,100 acres of bottomland hardwood forests and cypress dominated bottoms and sloughs. It is the site of Reelfoot Lake State Park.

The lake is 20 miles long and 7 miles wide, with an average depth of 5.5 feet, the maximum depth being 18 feet.

But what makes Reelfoot Lake so unique is that it’s the only large natural lake in the state of Tennessee. All others are man-made.

It was created by a series of violent earthquakes that occurred in the Mid-South during the winter of 1811-1812 that caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards for a short period of time, thus creating Reelfoot Lake as water overflowed its banks.

These earthquakes were felt as far away as Quebec, and remain the largest earthquakes ever recorded in the eastern United States.

Reelfoot is recognized by the United States Department of Interior as a National Natural Landmark. It is one of only 13 National Natural Landmarks in Tennessee. These landmarks are recognized as the country’s best remaining examples of major biotic communities and geologic features.

The park’s ecosystem is unlike any other place in Tennessee since it is literally a flooded forest. It’s home to diverse wildlife, including over 30 species of rare or endangered plants and animals like snakes and turtles, amphibians, mammals and invertebrates such as butterflies and dragonflies.

A natural wonder of the world, Reelfoot Lake is noted for its bald cypress trees and its nesting pairs of bald eagles. There are at least 14 rare bird species benefiting from this large aquatic/terrestrial landscape. These include the bald eagle, Swainson’s warbler, peregrine falcon, and Mississippi kite.

Reelfoot Lake is considered by some birders to be the best place in Tennessee for bird watching and in fact has been designated an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society. Over 270 bird species have been reported from the Reelfoot Lake area.

The Reelfoot Lake State Park staff offer eagle tours every winter.

Reelfoot Lake State Natural Area also provides excellent opportunities for fishing and surrounding uplands for hunting.

Lake Isom, a similar, smaller lake to the immediate south, is a National Wildlife Refuge area. Today the area is a peaceful preserve and features year-round hunting, fishing, bird watching, canoeing, kayaking & hiking.

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