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Lake Barkley State Resort Park celebrates 50 years

Lakefront balconies at Lake Barkley Lodge make it easy to access magnificent views. Photo: Kentucky Department of Parks
The pool at Lake Barkley State Resort Park overlooks the beautiful lake. Photo: Kentucky Department of Parks
The staircase at Lake Barkley Lodge’s restaurant, Windows on the Water. Photo: Kentucky Department of Parks
Lake Barkley Lodge features 3.5 acres of glass to provide countless spectacular views along the waterfront. Photo: Kentucky Department of Parks

How much did the beauty of surrounding trees and shoreline influence the design of Lake Barkley Lodge? This offers a clue: 3-1/2 acres of glass were used to give every room a spectacular view.

Lake Barkley State Resort Park Manager David Miller jokes about what that means for washing the lodge’s windows, inside and out: “It’s 7 acres!”

The picturesque park is passing a new milestone, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, coinciding with Trigg County’s bicentennial. 

A full slate of joint commemorative events were planned, Miller says, but as with so many other events this year, COVID-19 changed all that.

Prior to the pandemic, the lodge, served by Pennyrile Electric, booked about 30,000 room nights annually, Miller says. Whether arriving for a conference, wedding or leisure getaway, the majority of guests normally come from right here in Kentucky or travel from midwestern states like Iowa and Minnesota, especially for early spring golfing. Others hail from southern Indiana and Tennessee. 

The 3,600-acre park was created in 1964 through an act of Congress that designated the property a Kentucky state park. The lodge’s construction began in 1968, Miller says, and it was formally dedicated June 1, 1970. 

The lodge is designed in a semicircle with 120 guest rooms and private balconies situated around its perimeter. Eye-catching rooflines and massive beams constructed from Douglas fir and Western cedar lend a dark, weighty contrast to the numerous glass panes used in the lodge’s construction. 

“It’s just really stunning,” Miller says.

Nearby, the nearly 58,000-acre, man-made lake is 118 miles long with 1,000 miles of shoreline. Its waters are home to bluegill; channel catfish; crappie; and largemouth, white and Kentucky bass. Along with volleyball and sunbathing on the sandy shoreline, the lake is a recreational haven for fishing, swimming and boating, with rentals for pontoons, tri-toons, double-decker pontoons and fishing boats, plus accessories like water skis, tubes and kneeboards. 

There are also tennis courts, a trap shooting range, swimming pools, camping, horseback riding trails, an 18-hole golf course and fitness center at the park, as well as 13 rental cottages. Family-friendly seasonal special events and programs are held year-round. 

The aptly named Windows on the Water at Lake Barkley Lodge is the park’s on-site restaurant with an extensive menu that includes Southern favorites like Kentucky Hot Brown, fried green tomatoes and fried catfish, along with sandwiches, salads, appetizers, sides and desserts. Picnic packs are available, too.

As of June, the restaurant’s operations were curbside only—check for updates online when planning your trip. Likewise, the fitness center had been closed due to COVID-19.

Economics and emotional health 

Cadiz-Trigg County Tourism Commission Executive Director Bill Stevens worked at Lake Barkley State Resort Park in the early 1980s as a teen, and enjoyed it so much he completed his undergraduate and master’s degrees to pursue a career in parks and recreation. He eventually served as the facility’s interim manager and assistant manager before retiring and taking on his current tourism role. 

Not only is the park breathtakingly beautiful, Stevens says, “It’s really a great catalyst and economic booster for our local community.” 

Though Kentucky state parks closed for a time during the onset of the pandemic, Lake Barkley trails—totaling 9 miles—and marina remained open; other amenities have gradually reopened to the public since then. 

Many have found that getting out and exercising while enjoying nature is a great stress reliever. 

“Especially while people were cooped up … the parks system was a great chance for people to get out and roam around a little bit,” Miller says. 

Stevens says Lake Barkley has meant so much to so many who’ve come there for special occasions over the past five decades, or like him, spent many years employed there. 

“People were always prideful of being associated with Lake Barkley and for many years it was considered the diamond of the Kentucky State Parks system,” he says. “Of course, locally we still see it that way.”

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