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The Beast of LBL: Local Folklore A Source Of Pain Among Between The Rivers Natives

Dalton York

Land Between the Lakes is steeped in the history of the residents who lived between the rivers before their forced removal by the Tennessee Valley Authority to create the recreation area. The natives cherish their heritage and don’t look kindly upon those who disrespect it. The legend of a beast living within LBL is a piece of folklore that some Between the Rivers residents consider offensive. 

The Nickell Cemetery in LBL is filled with aging graves dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s one of more than 270 known cemeteries within the recreation area. The graveyards are some of the few remaining vestiges of the communities that existed between the rivers before the creation of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. David Nickell lived in the area before the removal and is now an outspoken critic of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the U.S. Forest Service, LBL’s parent agency. He said his family’s cemetery is a monument to their way of life before the TVA forever changed the region’s landscape. The story of a beast living within LBL is a piece of folklore that Nickell said is not warmly regarded by natives of Between the Rivers. 

Credit Dalton York / WKMS
David Nickell

“When somebody makes up something like that for fun or, I don’t know, profit and tries to say this was part of Between the Rivers folklore, that’s just further polluting the truth of what was here,” Nickell said.

The Beast of LBL is described by so-called “eyewitnesses” as resembling Bigfoot with wolfish characteristics and standing close to seven feet tall. Bloggers across the internet attribute murders within LBL, animal disappearances and other paranormal activities to the Beast. U.S. Forest Service Public Affairs Specialist Carlin Lewis said officials have never seen credible evidence of the Beast’s existence. 

“We have no evidence, records, documentation of any validated sightings of the Beast. Some of our staff have worked on Land Between the Lakes for many years. A lot of them know every nook and cranny. They’ve never seen anything that would point back to a beast existing,” Lewis explained. 

The lack of evidence has done nothing to quell the rumors. The folklore only intensified when local businessmen Lee Vervoort and Spencer Balentine teamed up to produce a movie about the Beast. Nickell said the movie is offensive to natives of Between the Rivers and erases what he said is the true folklore of the region. 

“We did have a rich culture, a rich heritage living here between these two rivers since the late 18th century. And it’s just sort of disturbing to have somebody come in, making up things and then ascribing it to us,” Nickell said.

Credit Dalton York / WKMS
U.S. Forest Service law enforcement vehicle at the LBL administrative office.

Beast of LBL movie producer Lee Vervoort disagrees. He said former LBL residents don’t have a monopoly on the folklore of the area. He also said the natives may wish they had thought of the idea first.

“I think it’s a case of jealousy because they’re not the ones doing it. And I saw an opportunity to create a story and I’m going with it,” Vervoort said. 

Vervoort said community reaction to the project has mostly been positive. He said he’s producing the movie because he saw a business opportunity and jumped on it. 

"Any time, you know, you get a negative reaction from a person or a group of people, that’s just part of it.”

Screenwriter Spencer Balentine is a former resident of Golden Pond in LBL and pushes back on other Between the Rivers natives taking offense at the Beast. He said attitudes toward the movie may be leftover from the cold reception that many former LBL residents received after the forced removal.

“It was almost like that at the time, I remember it, I was 10 years old, that the people on both sides were kind of looking down on you. This is totally a work of fiction and that’s the way I wanted it. It just kind of ties in the area and the Beast,” Balentine said. 

Vervoort is currently working to raise the money needed to produce the movie. He said he plans to shoot the film within LBL. Nickell and other Between the Rivers natives hope those looking to find the Beast of LBL will stay at home, and instead help to preserve the history they know exists.

Dalton York is a Morning Edition host and reporter for WKYU in Bowling Green. He is a graduate of Murray State University, where he majored in History with a minor in Nonprofit Leadership Studies. While attending Murray State, he worked as a student reporter at WKMS. A native of Marshall County, he is a proud product of his tight-knit community.
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