Whether they are urban parks protecting historical memorials, such as Tennessee Capitol Mall State Park in downtown Nashville, or sprawling wilderness areas covering thousands of acres, as is the much-loved Fall Creek Falls State Park, Tennessee’s state park system is as widespread as it is diverse.
The Cumberland Trail seeks to span the state from Chattanooga to the Kentucky border at Cumberland Gap. State historic parks tell the stories of communities and famous Tennesseans who left their mark on history, from Davy Crockett and Sgt. Alvin York to the Cherokee Nation. Seven Islands State Birding Park just outside Knoxville creates a perfect environment for those who set out to record the region’s abundant avian residents, while Hiwassee/Ocoee Scenic River State Park is unique in that it protects the free-flowing waters of the Hiwassee River as it flows through Cherokee National Forest.
This year marks a special milestone for the state parks of Tennessee. In the year 1937, the Tennessee Department of Conservation was established to manage and protect our earliest state parks. Many of these were lands originally purchased by TVA in the thirties and forties as they created the network of reservoirs along the Tennessee River watershed. Eighty years later, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation sports not only a new name, but more responsibility also as dozens of new parks have joined the system.
To celebrate the 80th anniversary of our park system, the park service has put together a list eighty adventures that can be found across Tennessee. Check it out at www.tnstateparks.com. While the year is rapidly drawing to a close and many of us are already caught up in the frantic bustle of the holidays, it’s worth taking the time to visit one of our state parks in the coming weeks.
One doesn’t need to venture too far away to take part in the state park experience. Warriors Path State Park rests on the shores of Fort Patrick Henry Reservoir in nearby Colonial Heights. A twenty-minute drive from Johnson City and only ten minutes from Kingsport, the reserve is ideally situated in the center of the Tri-Cities area.
While it would be a great feat to complete all the adventures before January 1st, it’s never too late to enjoy what nature has to offer
One of our most unique state parks, Warriors Path was one of the earliest to be acquired and covers just under a thousand acres. While most state parks have a primary purpose to preserve some aspect of nature, whether it be the cascades of Cummins Falls or the cedar barrens of Cedars of Lebanon, Warriors Path exists almost exclusively for outdoor recreation. While there are many opportunities to enjoy the Tennessee Valley’s natural beauty throughout the park, you’ll be well aware that wilderness takes a back seat here. That’s not necessarily a bad thing either.
Fort Patrick Henry Lake is the obvious star, as it divides the park into three distinct units: the east shore, west shore, and Duck Island in the center. Visitors can rent boats and kayaks from the marina to ply the park’s waters. Numerous boat ramps provide plenty of access to those who bring their own watercraft. Fishing areas are accessible throughout the park and at the designated fishing pier.
The east shore is home to more woodlands as well as Warriors Path Golf Course, an eighteen-hole course featured as a part of the Tennessee Golf Trail. Designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, the course serves as a retreat for many bird species as well as the traffic-weary human. Adjacent to this, visitors will find a riding stable where they can explore two miles of trails with their equestrian friends. Those on foot can choose several hikes, from the bluff-climbing Devil’s Backbone Trail to the more relaxed boardwalks along Sinking Waters Trail; here the trail meanders through a series of wetlands which are home to a variety of wildlife. A short drive is required to reach one of the park’s award-winning mountain bike trail system. Six miles of trails meander through the woods and offer a challenging ride for bikers of all abilities.
Duck Island is home to several park amenities, from tennis and volleyball courts to a half-mile paved running trail. This is one of the best areas for birders to catch a glimpse of the park’s myriad waterfowl species; great blue herons are a common sight on the rocky shoreline. Picnic pavilions are scattered throughout, and it’s also the home of the Recreation Lodge. Visitors are able to rent this large facility to host a variety of events.
The park’s primary amenities are accessed from the west shore. Here sits a spacious campground, multiple picnic pavilions, and the marina. Bring Frisbees if you’re interested in checking out the extensive disc golf course. Any young ones in tow will be excited to discover Darrell’s Dream Boundless Playground, probably the largest playground in the area and home to an accessible tree house as well! Children of all abilities can enjoy this, an adjacent amphitheater, and the Lions Narnia Brail Trail. In summer, the park offers an olympic-sized pool to beat the heat, completely staffed by trained life guards. Several short trails are scattered throughout the area, allowing quiet lakeside walks or more vigorous climbs to the summit of small bluffs.