I had a fan girl moment at Long Hunter State Park a few weeks ago. My friend and I went into the ranger station because she wanted to find souvenirs for some young women visiting from Israel. We chatted with the ranger about their Reading Ranger Story Trail blazed in 2016 (I described the Hidden Lake story trail in the December 2022 Observer). The ranger was Leslie Ann Rawlings who introduced the idea of story trails to Long Hunter based on one at an arboretum in her home state of Ohio. Her idea sparked 34 more trails around the state, the products of a partnership between the Governor’s Early Literacy Foundation and the Tennessee state park system.
We hiked the .85-mile Deer Trail to see the meadows blooming with liatris and populated by dozens and dozens of butterflies so seduced by the nectar that we were able to stand just inches away to watch them feed. Put it on your calendar and visit next July for a Zen butterfly experience and register online with TDOT for free milkweed seeds to plant so you can attract pollinators to your backyard.
Next, we visited the story trail and read “The First Strawberries,” a Cherokee tale of how strawberries came to be. Make sure you go clockwise so you don’t read the story backwards like we did. The text and beautiful watercolor illustrations are accompanied by open-ended questions which encourage adults and children to interact with nature and literacy. How great would it be to have something like that on the grounds of the Gordon JCC with a PJ Library book!
Finally, we walked the paved 2.1-mile Couchville Lake Trail with picnic and grilling areas which circles the lake and also skirts Percy Priest Lake. The Bryant Grove Trail has access to some limestone glades, formed by karst topography like that at Cedars of Lebanon State. Limestone is so close to the surface that soil is thin or absent in these areas creating unique ecosytems that are home to rare plants. There are green heron, wood ducks, deer, and much more flora and fauna along the trail.
We had to save a visit to the Sellars Farm State Archaeological Area for another day. It is a small, fortified embankment settled by Mississippian peoples around 1000 CE and abandoned sometime before 1400 CE. Much of the area was cultivated and archaeological deposits have been lost, though at one time there were about 100 homes. Tennessee’s state artifact, a stone statue of a kneeling man, was found there in 1939 by a tenant farmer. A similar example from the same era, but found in Williamson County, can be seen at the Tennessee State Museum.
Sadly, an earthen mound with 61 burial sites was excavated in 1877 and the burials and offerings were taken to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.
There are 26 miles of trails in the 2.600-acre park and dogs are allowed on many of the trails. You can rent kayaks, canoes, or a 50-foot-tall adventure tower. You can fish, camp, and swim (though it is unsupervised), drop-in at a junior ranger booth or go on a guided hike. There are also conference rooms and lakeside sites available for rental. Spend a day or a couple of hours at yet another jewel of a state park close to Nashville.