Get Outside: Cedars of Lebanon

The righteous bloom like a date-palm; they thrive like a cedar in Lebanon;

Psalm 92

Cedars of Lebanon State Park in Wilson County is named for the eastern red cedar trees which reminded early settlers of the cedar trees mentioned dozens of times in the bible. The cedar trees which once thrived across Mount Lebanon in the Mediterranean have suffered a serious decrease from centuries of over-forestation and climate change and now mostly grow there in a heavily protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The “cedars” of Lebanon, Tennessee are actually juniper trees, though that does not detract from the idyllic feeling of the 1,139-acre park. There are eight miles of trails which wind through the unique natural ecosystems called limestone glades. Limestone is so close to the surface that soil is thin or absent in these areas. Because the water and surface temperatures vary so much a desert-like habitat exists for the plant community. There are nineteen rare and endangered species of plants that grow there and nowhere else in the world.


The half mile unpaved Cedar Glade Trail by the visitor center winds through meadows and woods. On a recent visit we saw butterflies flitting everywhere visiting the blooming echinacea and other native wild flowers. Signs along the way identify trees, flora, and fauna.


Trails by the nature center have been paved which makes that area of the park much more accessible than when I visited several years ago. Intersecting these trails are looping trails through meadows. “The park’s goal is to rehabilitate these fields, promoting native grasses and forbs to foster quality bird and wildlife habitat and reproduce the open grassland physiognomy likely found historically in the area,” according to Cedars of Lebanon Resource Management Plan. What is a “forb,” you ask? They are herbaceous, broad leaf plants that are not woody and are not grass-like. Puff balls, blackberry lilies, purple passion flowers, milkweed, and more flourish along the paths. Towering above the field are bat houses which provide nesting opportunities for bats which are great for pest control.


The nature center has several live reptiles as well as animals which populate what my mother would call “the dead zoo.” The taxidermy bird display has definitely seen better days. There is also a detailed explanation of the park’s karst topography which is created by the dissolving of the limestone. This causes sinkholes, underground rivers, and caves as well as other topographical features. Close to the Nature Center visitors can walk to the entrance of Jackson Cave, one of 18 in the park. Behind the center is a meticulously labeled native plant garden with dozens of samples, many of which are available at the annual Friends of Cedars of Lebanon native plant sale.


The farmers who settled the area realized the soil was poor and relied on timber harvesting which worsened erosion. In 1935, as part of the New Deal, the federal government began to resettle farmers so the forests could recover. Farmers in the cedar flats were resettled by the government to new locations, and the Works Project Administration constructed forestry and recreational facilities and planted thousands of red cedar seedlings. The park’s recovery is still evolving with controlled burns and other restoration projects. It also has a playground, disc golf course, picnic tables and grills, and a free splash pad which makes it a great family destination even though it is a little farther than other parks this column has described.


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