Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge
Southeast Region
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In Years Past...

Credit: Clayton Ferrell, USFWS

Credit: Clayton Ferrell, USFWS

The story of man in Tennessee begins with the last retreat of the Ice Age glaciers, when a colder climate and forests of spruce and fir prevailed in the region. Late Ice Age hunters probably followed animal herds into west Tennessee some 12,000-15,000 years ago. These nomadic Paleo-Indians camped in caves and rock shelters and left behind their distinctive arrowheads and spear points. About 12,000 years ago, the region’s climate began to warm and the predominant vegetation changed from conifer to our modern deciduous forest. Abundant acorns, hickory, chestnut, and beech mast attracted large numbers of deer and elk. Warmer climate, the extinction of the large Ice Age mammals, and the spread of deciduous forests worked together to transform Indian society. During what is known as the Archaic period, descendants of the Paleo-Indians began to settle on river terraces, such as those found along the Tennessee River, where they gathered wild plant food and shellfish in addition to hunting game. Sometime between 3,000 and 900 BC, natives took the crucial step of cultivating edible plants such as squash and gourds—the first glimmerings of agriculture. Archaic Indians were thereby ensured a dependable food supply and freed themselves from seasonal shortages of wild plant foods and game. With a more secure food supply, populations expanded rapidly across what is now west Tennessee and scattered bands combined to form larger villages. Several Archaic Indian settlements have been found within or near current Tennessee NWR lands throughout recent years.

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Service Extends The Creation of a Refuge...

In 1937, a flood occurred in the Tennessee and Ohio River Valleys, causing widespread devastation to communities, farms and families. The following year, in 1938, the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority started construction on Kentucky Dam. In 1944, the construction of Kentucky Dam across the Tennessee River near Gilbertsville, Kentucky was completed, forming Kentucky Lake. The excess waters of Kentucky Lake are discharged into the Tennessee River, which flows into the Ohio River and eventually into the Mississippi.

Kentucky Dam Dedication in 1944. Credit: TVA File Photo

Kentucky Dam Dedication in 1944. Credit: TVA File Photo

Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge was established on December 28, 1945, by President Harry S. Truman, who signed Executive Order No. 9670, designating the area "for the use of the Department of the Interior as a refuge and wildlife management area for migratory birds and other wildlife." On December 29, 1945, the Department of the Interior and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) entered into agreement with respect to the lands that were to be reserved and used as the wildlife refuge.

Tennessee NWR lies nestled along 65 miles of the Tennessee River (Figure 1). The 51,358-acre refuge is made up of three separate units: the Duck River Unit with 26,738 acres, Big Sandy Unit with 21,348 acres and Busseltown Unit with 3,272 acres. The headquarters for Tennessee NWR is in Paris, Tennessee, and a sub headquarters exists on the Duck River Unit, near the town of New Johnsonville, Tennessee.

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Last updated: February 13, 2014