Lately, I've been thinking about what it is that brings folks out to our park, Natural Tunnel State Park, that it is, or any of our state's parks for that matter. In the process, several, what I believe to be, interesting observations have occurred to me. At this time I will attempt to share those with you.
Obviously, when you're talking about a park whose main attraction is a geological phenomenon created over millions of years when groundwater bearing carbonic acid percolated through crevices and slowly dissolved surrounding limestone and dolomite bedrock, giving way to a tunnel approximately 900 feet in length and nearly eight stories tall, that in itself would be enough to lure most anyone, nature lover or not, out to the park.
Perhaps Tony Scales, author and renowned local geologist put it best in his book: Natural Tunnel: Nature's Marvel in Stone, when he said, "You do not need to be a geologist or botanist or historian to recognize that Natural Tunnel is unique, even awe-inspiring."
But, surely I thought, unique geological features like the tunnel and surrounding caves cannot be the only appealing draws to Natural Tunnel State Park. As it turns out, I was correct in my assumption. Upon further investigation, I discovered there are a host of reasons visitors are drawn to our park.
For starters, it would seem, many folks come out to our park because it provides them with a safe, established place of natural beauty, to retreat to. Other folks, I have discovered, perhaps those more in tune with their inner Mother Nature, find simply getting away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, and into more peaceful, natural settings like those found here in our park, good for the soul.
I know for myself, time spent alone in nature allows me to reflect on where I am in my life, where I've been, and maybe more importantly, where I would like to see myself in the future. What can I do to make this world a better place in which to live? How can I contribute to the betterment of society? What can I best accomplish in my remaining years on this earth? But this is not about me, it's about others.
That being said, one day recently, while gazing out the window of the visitors center where I work, I spotted a man dressed in business-attire sitting alone on a bench in an herb garden, nearby. He appeared to be deep in thought, or perhaps, simply reflecting on his day. Shortly thereafter, he came into the visitors center and I learned that he had came to the park that day in search of place to "recharge," as he put it. We introduced ourselves, we exchanged pleasantries, we learned a little bit about each other, and he left, hopefully — recharged!
Most of the time when I meet visitors to our park, I ask them where they are from. Aside from the fact it makes for a good conversation starter, I genuinely find it interesting to learn where people are from, and how they wound up here. Besides, I think it makes good business sense to show an interest in our visitors. And, I find most are glad I that inquired. Sure, folks are interested in what we have to offer here at the park, but oftentimes they want to share a little bit of themselves with us, too. In short, many come to parks for more than just what a park has to offer in terms of physical beauty or amenities, they come for the human interaction aspect, as well.
Speaking of which, one day recently, an 83-year-old woman by the name of Jean Brown, who is the eldest, and possibly the wisest member of the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association, a non-profit group affiliated with our park, requested that I accompany her to the aforementioned herb garden. So, I obliged. Substituting the use of her walking stick with my left arm, the two of us made our way up the sidewalk toward the herb garden, which she helped design and create, and to this day, helps maintain. En route, she leaned in and whispered into my ear, "Sometimes it's just nice to have someone to hold onto."
While there to harvest lavender for use in her handcrafted lavender wands, she gladly took the time to give two of our park's patrons a crash course in herbology. "Now that's Lambs Ear," Jean said. "Back then," referring to the time of early settlers in the area, "folks would use leaves from that plant to bandage wounds," she went onto explain. "Tansy leaves were used to repel flies and ants," she added. This impromptu lesson went on for another fifteen minutes or so, in which time, Jean posed for photo ops for her audience.
Meet Miss Jean resident herbologist
Leaving Jean behind to tend to her lavender, the twovisitors and I walked away, at which time one of those individuals made a rather astute observation, one that really struck a chord with me. She said, “Now that's what really makes a visit to a park special; getting the chance to interact and learn from people like her,” referring to our resident herbologist. And so left another visitor, or two, richer for the experience of having visited our park, albeit, thanks to a little human interaction, in nature.
While it's always fascinating to me to meet and interact with visitors from far-away places, like the delightful family from Windsor, Canada I spent some quality time with this past weekend, I'm often equally intrigued with local visitors to our park. Of course, sometimes the reasons for their visits to our park vary from those of more distant travelers. Whereas, visitors from afar might haven chosen our park because it was a good half-way point between here and there, or it was a good central location for a family reunion, local visitors sometimes have a host of altogether different reasons for visiting our park.
Take for example, an adorable, older couple from neighboring Lee County, whom by the way, I have officially adopted as my surrogate grandparents, who come out to the park nearly every Sunday afternoon to make use of two of our rocking chairs, and the view their proximity affords. The two, Millard Hall, 80, of Jonesville, Va., and Edna Mae Ward, 72, of Stickleyville, Va. are both widowed. For the pair, their weekly visit to our park amounts to a date. When I asked them what brought them out to the park each week, Edna simply replied, "We come here to rock and hold hands." That one still gets to me, when I recall seeing her clutch Millard’s hand tighter as she spoke the words.
This past weekend, it occurred to me that many locals, as well as visitors from afar, find the park to be an ideal backdrop for taking pictures. Saturday, I witnessed two sets of parents snapping photos of children all about the grounds.
A family enjoying the beautiful scenery
A young family visiting the blockhouse
At the far north end of the park, stands a replica of a blockhouse from 1775. Perched upon a knoll with panoramic views of the surrounding mountains, it stands tall against the Southwestern Virginia skies. And almost without fail, upon entering its formidable walls, parents will have their children pose for pictures on the bench in front of its massive, stone fireplace.
A unique, handcrafted bench with a backrest constructed of interwoven tree limbs in the herb garden, serves as another backdrop of choice. There, flowering blooms, and the occasional bee or bird, set the stage for doting parents.
Occasionally, of course, visitors request that I share in their Kodak moments. Never being one to shy away from the camera eye, or disappoint an admirer of a man in a park ranger's uniform, naturally, I graciously accommodate them.
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TheDrive Time from:Northern Virginia, eight hours; Richmond, six hours; Tidewater/Norfolk/Virginia Beach, eight to nine hours; Roanoke, three and a half hours.Click herefor a Google Map.
Natural Tunnel State Park, 1420 Natural Tunnel Parkway. Duffield, VA 24244-9361; Phone: (276) 940-2674; email:naturaltunnel.