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One of the premier spots for water-based recreation in the Middle Tennessee region is Cordell Hull Lake. Built by the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the Cordell Hull Dam across the Cumberland River created a lake covering nearly 12,000 acres. This impounded a large pool of water to provide hydroelectric generation and presented nearly unlimited opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, camping and hiking along the 381-acre shoreline. The dam is equipped with navigation locks for water transportation. The USACE today manages the lake and shoreline for the Tennessee Valley Authority with the assistance of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Nearly every enjoyable outdoor activity is provided for within the many parks and adjacent wildlife management area. Stocked regularly, the lake holds a variety of game fish, with native animals, waterfowl and songbirds enjoying the shore areas. Human visitors were also part of the plan when the reservoir and its surroundings were designed, with all of the most desirable features accounted for. These are a few of the reasons that Cordell Hull Lake receives thousands of visitors every year.
As Tennessee has few natural lakes, water-based activities are more than welcome. Four swimming beaches are maintained for the enjoyment of visitors. All of the day-use areas hold picnic grounds with tables, grills, rest rooms and shelters. Most also offer a playground and many of the walking trails begin within the parks. Two concession-operated marinas provide fuel, mooring space and supplies for boaters and rent equipment to daily visitors, including small boats, jet skis, pontoons, canoes and kayaks. At least one marina also rents houseboats-a popular vacation option on the lake. The long expanse of the reservoir makes the waters attractive for sailing and power-boating, along with wind surfing, water skiing, wake-boarding and tubing.
Restaurants and snack shops are located at the Cordell Hull Lake marinas and both facilities offer campgrounds for most RVs and tents. Camping cabins are also available here as are launch facilities for visitors' private watercraft. Both campgrounds provide sandy beach areas for swimming. All facilities charge a minimal fee for their services which keep the parks in top operating condition. A brand new Visitors Center has recently opened to provide information, maps, permits and management space.
Fishing is one of the main reasons many visitors come to Cordell Hull Lake. White bass, crappie, hybrid rockfish, striped bass, catfish, largemouth bass and gizzard shad are all caught in the lake itself, while the Obey River tailwater at Donaldson Park is stocked with 60,000 rainbow trout annually. Brown trout and brook trout can also be caught in the streams that flow into the lake. Donaldson Park also holds boat ramps, picnic grounds and plenty of shady play-space. Some of the rockfish caught here have taken the state record in recent years. Valid fishing licenses must be held by all anglers and all fishing regulations must be adhered to. Fishing, particularly for catfish, is also available downstream from the dam along the Cumberland River. A total of 22 boat ramps placed around the shoreline provide plenty of launch space for fishing boats.
Although the summer season lasts late into the fall in this mild climate, when hunting season rolls around, hunters arrive to stalk their favorite wild game. Waterfowl, wild turkey, white-tail deer, red fox, raccoon, squirrel and rabbit share the Wildlife Management Area with bobcat, skunk, mink, muskrat and bobwhite quail. No target shooting is allowed anywhere at Cordell Hull Lake except for a small archery range at one of the park areas. Trails are a popular feature year round: there are horseback riding trails, nature observation trails and a mountain bike trail included in the network so that everyone may enjoy the natural surroundings. Some are handicapped-accessible.
Named for Cordell Hull, a Tennessee Senator and statesman, the reservoir stretches across parts of Smith, Clay and Jackson counties. The historic small city of Carthage is a few miles south of the west end of the lake and serves as Smith County seat. Carthage offers a number of annual events of interest to visitors, such as the Defeated Creek Bluegrass Festival in June, the Fair on The River and William Walton Days honoring the town's pioneer heritage. Near the opposite end of Cordell Hull Lake, little Granville features the Granville Museum and Agricultural Museum. Not to be missed are the Sutton Homestead and Sutton General Store along with Pioneer Village. The Museum usually features traveling exhibits of interest to locals and visitors alike. The General Store highlights live Bluegrass performances every Saturday night.
A major area of action during the Civil War, the area along the Cumberland River is complete with historic markers denoting battles and often holds Civil War re-enactment events. The area is filled with all types of lodgings from bed & breakfasts and guest cottages, to hotels and motels in the larger towns. There are plenty of restaurants, farm markets, unique shops and services available close to Cordell Hull Lake but the larger cities of Nashville and Knoxville are only a couple of hours away via Interstate 40. Other large reservoirs and publicly-accessible parks are nearby, including Dale Hollow Lake and Center Hill Lake.
The year-round attraction of the wooded shoreline and open water has made private homes along the lake very popular. Private docks are not allowed as USACE owns the shoreline itself, but most homeowners can at least find space for canoe or rowboat on the waterfront for their own boating pleasure. Larger boats are usually kept at a nearby marina for a fee. Real estate is available in the area, often with lake frontage or lake views. In addition, there are sometimes a few private homes for rent for a week or longer on Cordell Hull Lake. A better or more convenient lake vacation location cant be found in Middle Tennessee. Bring the boat, the kids, the fishing tackle and the swim fins. Plenty of fun, water and sun await at Cordell Hull Lake!
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