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Dale Hollow Lake

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Dale Hollow Lake

Dale Hollow Lake
Photo by Ranger staff

A typical view of the Dale Hollow terrain with its many coves and forested hillsides somewhere a short distance above the dam. The exposed mud shoreline is due to the winter drawn down.

Location:  On the Obey River and tributaries, beginning just below the dam located 7 miles upstream from the mouth of the Obey River and extending 44 river miles upstream within the counties of Clay, Overton, and Fentress, Tennessee. A portion of the lake resides in the counties of Cumberland and Clinton, Kentucky.
Physiographic Province:  PIF 14 (Interior Low Plateaus [Eastern Highland Rim]); BCR 27 (Southeastern Coastal Plain)
Tennessee Site Map - Dale Hollow Lake
Geographical Coordinates: 
    Dale Hollow Lake Dam--Lat. 363212N  Long. 0852706W
    Lillydale Recreation Area--Lat. 363616N  Long. 0851759W
    Willow Grove Recreation Area--Lat. 363513N  Long. 0852043W
Elevation Range:  635' - 1,000'
    627' Dale Hollow Lake Dam
    650' Lillydale Recreation Area
    692' Willow Grove Recreation Area
Size:  52,000 acres (approximately 41,600 acres in Tennessee and 10,400 in Kentucky)
USGS 7.5’ quads:  Numerous sheets beginning with the Dale Hollow Dam quad at the downstream point and ending with the Riverton quad at the furthest upstream point.

Description:  Dale Hollow Lake is a federally-managed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project consisting of 52,000 contiguous acres of upland forest and open water habitat. Over 80% of the forests and waters lie within Tennessee. Fifty percent (26,000 acres) of the project consists primarily of steep gradient, mature oak-hickory and beech-maple forests. The upland forest is contiguous and surrounds 26,000 acres of open water lake habitat. There is 620 miles of shoreline. Over 90% of lake shorelines remain in a pristine, forested, and undisturbed natural condition. The vast majority of the mature upland forest which have not been timbered in over 60 years are located in Tennessee. There is very limited shoreline development (less than 5%) with the exception of 5 major campgrounds/outdoor recreation areas and 14 commercial marinas that are limited to sites previously designated in the lake Master Plan. Over 90% of the shorelines remain in a natural riparian condition. The steep forested hillsides and natural shorelines will continue to be managed and protected in their natural condition.  This settling and management philosophy is unique to Dale Hollow in the Cumberland and Tennessee River Valleys.

IBA Criteria:  2, 3, 4a, 4f, 4g

Adult Bald Eagle

Photo by Ranger staff

An adult Bald Eagle surveying the surroundings.

Ornithological Importance:  Dale Hollow's large contiguous tract of forested uplands and undisturbed shorelines provides a unique and significant winter home to Tennessee's second largest population of Bald Eagles (second only to Reelfoot Lake). In addition, the Dale Hollow forest is a large, intact, and exceptional habitat representative of mature deciduous woodland species to include breeding, wintering, and migration seasons for a diversity of neo-tropical migratory bird species. Dale Hollow provides significant habitat for the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (winter), Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler (East Obey watershed), and a diversity of other woodland species.  The Dale Hollow watershed includes the drainage basins of the East and West Obey Rivers and the Wolf River. These drainage basins are relatively undisturbed, mostly forested, remote, and of rugged terrain. They are contiguous to the forested areas of Standing Stone State Park, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Pickett State Forest, and the Daniel Boone National Forest. These areas comprise several hundred thousand acres of ecologically important habitat for numerous neo-tropical migrants  and seasonal breeding species. The Dale Hollow watershed is an important link of this regional woodland flyway.
        The Cerulean Warbler, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, has been documented by numerous personal observations (Ronnie D. Smith) in remote sections of the East Obey River watershed (Fentress County) during the breeding seasons 2002-2004 and the West Obey River watershed (May 25)--Cub Mountain (1) and Bear Mountain (2), Overton County, 2005.
   Note 1. Dale Hollow Lake's forested hillsides and undisturbed riparian zones support the second largest wintering population of Bald Eagles, a Tennessee In Need of Management species, and one of the largest in the entire southeastern United States. The lake averages 67 eagles per year and has had a high number of 102 birds in a single winter. In the period 2000-2005, on average, 67 Bald Eagles winter at Dale Hollow Lake of which approximately 62% (41 birds) are in Tennessee. There are three active Bald Eagle nests (two of them in Tennessee). There are at least three pairs of Bald Eagles present year-round. See the table below for the Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey 1991-2000, 2003.
      The eagle population is one of the leading attractions for tourists during the winter's recreational "off season." The Corps of Engineers partners with the TWRA, the Kentucky State Parks, the Kentucky State Police, the Kentucky Division of Wildlife, and the Friends of Dale Hollow in conducting Annual Dale Hollow Lake Eagle Watches which are popular educational events for the visiting public.

Mid-Winter Bald Eagle Survey Dale Hollow Lake 1991-2000, 2003
Bald Eagle19911992199319941995199619971998199920002003

   Note 2. The Dale Hollow Lake watershed provides 26,000 aces of contiguous and relatively undisturbed mature deciduous upland forest habitat and lakeside riparian zones. The site supports a diverse complement of woodland species including neo-tropical migrants to include such species as Eastern Wood-Pewee, Acadian Flycatcher, Wood Thrush, Blue-winged Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Ovenbird, Hooded Warbler, etc. This large contiguous tract is an exceptional representative of the mature upland deciduous forest habitat type that is rapidly diminishing in the region and is an important component of the southeastern region's woodland flyway.
   Note 3. "Number of diving ducks (especially Ring-necked Ducks and scaups) vary widely during the early winter (CBC period), sometime being moderate (100-200) and sometimes being absent. Small numbers of various dabblers, especially Mallards, are regular on and near the lake. Common Loon winters in moderate to small numbers, usually being present near the dam and eastward 5 miles in moderate numbers early in the winter (i.e., 20-80 [Clay County CBC data]), but somewhat less conspicuous as the season proceeds; by mid-winter usually 5-15 can be counted near Lillydale and Willow Grove (Stephen J. Stedman)." "Horned Grebe winters in moderate numbers with flocks of 10-110 being regular near the dam (Clay County CBC) and with flocks of 50-100 being fairly regular in the vicinity of Willow Grove and Lillydale. In migration, Horned Grebe numbers can be as high as 500+on the lake in November and Common Loons can number 100+ for a few days that month also. American Coots winters in small to moderate numbers (10-150 [Clay County CBC]) near the dam and eastward 5 miles; numbers near Lillydale/Willow Grove and Eagle Cover vary annually but range from 50-300 at each site (Stephen J. Stedman)." There have been no Mid-Winter Waterfowl Surveys on the lake.

Site Criteria



Avg. No Season

Max. No. Season

Years of Data


2, 4g

Bald Eagle (NOM)  (See Note 1 above.)

B, W  Year-round

67 (41 Tennessee)

102 (62 Tennessee)



3, 4f

Habitat: Natural and Neo-tropical species (See Note 2 above.)







Waterfowl (See Note 3 above.)






Season1   B = Breeding, W = Wintering, SM = Spring Migration, FM = Fall Migration 
Source 2  1-Atlas Breeding Birds of Tennessee 2-Breeding Bird Surveys
3-Christmas Bird Counts (Clay County--Terry Campbell, compiler)
4-Point Counts 5-Refuge Counts (Spring) 6-Personal observations (Ronnie D. Smith)
7-Other (Annual Mid-Winter Eagle Count)

Ownership:  U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dale Hollow Lake, 5050 Dale Hollow Dam Road, Celina, TN 38551 
    Contact:  Ronnie D. Smith, Resource Manager, 5050 Dale Hollow, Dam Road, Celina, TN 38551, 931-243-3136, Ronnie.D.Smith@lrn02.usace.army.mil

Conservation Concerns:  Major concern is deforestation. Primary concern is water pollution, commercial development, residential development, and recreational development/overuse. 
    The primary conservation concern of deforestation and residential development of privately owned forests in the watershed and region is because  timber of all sizes, species, and growth are being substantially removed in the region. As private lands continue to be timbered and lost through development, Dale Hollow's protected forests and those areas listed above will become even more important to the region's woodland flyway.

Management Program:  At the present there is no formal Lakeshore Management Plan for several reasons. "We have found it best that we manage our forests and shorelines by a concise policy which is quite simple: No private exclusive use privileges such as landscaping, tree cutting, private docks, etc are allowed on Dale Hollow lands and waters by adjacent landowners. In short, we manage the property in a protective mode...similar to a National Park.  This policy has allowed the Corps to protect and maintain pristine shorelines and forest making it unique among Corps of Engineers and TVA water resource development projects."

Submitted by:  Ronnie D. Smith, Resource Manager, 5050 Dale Hollow, Dam Road, Celina, TN 38551, 931-243-3136, Ronnie.D.Smith@lrn02.usace.army.mil

Additional Contributors:   Stephen J. Stedman

Approved as an IBA site:  December 2005--Yes 6  No 1

This page was last updated on 02/19/06.