The following is a weekend diary from one of our Virginia State Parksstaff – Stan Daily. After recently reading from a NY Times bestselling author that had virtually no substance, I read this piece by Stan and was delighted! I envisioned the setting Stan describes so well from the "Far Western Reaches of the Commonwealth." I hope you will enjoy this too, thank you Stan for your insight! Grab a cup of coffee and step back in time…
Friday, June 17 – Manning one of our park’s two visitor centers affords me the opportunity to meet folks from various walks of life, which is a good thing. For instance, I've just spent the last thirty minutes this afternoon with a lovely couple from Ontario, Canada. They had just finished setting up camp and were looking for something to do before nightfall, so they paid me a visit here at the Blockhouse Interpretive Center, and boy was I glad they did. It can get a little lonely around here sometimes, with the occasional incoming car a welcome site.
See, this particular facility is relatively new and located on the far end of the park, an area somewhat detached from the park’s main attractions: the campgrounds, cabins, swimming pool, and of course, the heart of our park, the geological wonder that is the Natural Tunnel. Therefore, folks have to make it a point to head this way. Oh, they could walk or ride a bike here I suppose, after all, our campgrounds and cabins are only a few tenths of a mile away, as a crow flies. But for most, this facility is just far enough away that driving here wins out nine times out of ten. Once here, most find their efforts worth while, no matter the mode of transportation.
Folks generally find the theme of this interpretive center very interesting, indeed. For starters, the center is situated next door to a replica of a Blockhouse built by John Anderson in 1775 that was located some twenty miles east of here. Blockhouses were constructed with square-cut, hand-hewn logs with no chinking (mortar) in between the logs, traditional-sized windows were replaced by small openings referred to as portals, used for firing upon intruders, and upper stories overhung the main floor so they could be outfitted with portals for firing down upon intruders, as well. Anderson’s Blockhouse was located near the beginning of the famous Wilderness Trail through the Cumberland Gap blazed by Daniel Boone and thirty axmen, also in 1775.
Daniel Boone was here
Visit the block house and follow the Daniel Boone Trail from Natural Tunnel State Park
Daniel Boone was a real man who changed history
The mission of this facility is to help folks understand what life would have been like for those early frontier settlers who came down the Great Wagon Road from destinations north, along with their counterparts from the Piedmont Region of the Carolinas, en route to the Western Frontier. In conjunction with the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association, the center plays host to two major reenactment events each year, the Siege at the Blockhouse in May, and a Harvest Celebration, to be held Oct. 22 this year. Each Saturday and Sunday through October, the Blockhouse is open from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., with re-enactors on hand conducting demonstrations ranging from spinning wool to making salt. The visitor center is open Thursday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with impromptu tours of the Blockhouse available upon request.
Saturday, June 18 – Today is the 75th Anniversary Celebration of Virginia’s State Park System, and Mother Nature appears not to be cooperating, whatsoever. Less than two hours from now, folks will be gathering at the amphitheater for free cake and ice cream and $.75 hotdogs. However, dark, ominous clouds varying in shades of grayish blue to charcoal, looming heavy overhead, appear sure to put a damper (pun intended) on our festivities. Thus far, however, echoes of thunder in the near distance have not yet drowned out the shrill of children’s voices playing volleyball across the way. It is now 12:40 p.m., and though not yet a single drop of rain has fallen from the sky, heavy, dense fog blanketing the hillsides can mean only one thing: the inevitable bottom will soon drop out.
Moments later, it did. Intense booms of thunder, followed closely by spastic streaks of lightning splinter an otherwise dark gray, saturated sky with sheens of sporadic light. The beautiful three-dimensional layers of lush green mountain ranges that normally envelope this setting like the walls of an outdoor cathedral, have now disappeared from view, only barely detectable shrouds of tree-lined knolls in the forefront, remain.
Unpredictable as the weather can be here in the Heart of Appalachia, so too are the numbers of visitors one might expect to encounter on any given day. Roughly an hour after it had so violently begun, the brunt of the summer thunderstorm passed, and with it came an unexpected deluge of visitors to this otherwise sleepy outpost of the park. Thirty-five high school students from a Tennessee Governor's School program had their plans to take a guided-hike through the 950 foot length of the Natural Tunnel — squashed by Mother Nature's torrent.
To make the most of a rained-out day, the group was re-routed through our visitor centers. Thankfully for me, two of our park's interpreters accompanied them along the way, so I had help entertaining the disappointed teens who got in a lesson in local history, as well as a lecture in local geology, instead of an exciting hike through a mysterious, ancient tunnel. What had started out as an uneventful day with but a handful of folks to walk through our doors, went full-tilt in a flash.
If only the same could be said of our Hungry Mother State Park, June 13, 1936, was still smiling down from the Great Park in the Sky with pleasure at how far the state park system has come since then.
Office Administrative Specialist