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Natural Tunnel State Park offers wide range of activities for all ages

Tanja Moody • Mar 25, 2013 at 1:13 AM

If and when the seasons change and temperatures warm up, it’ll be time to think about outdoor activities again.

That makes it a good time to check out what’s coming up at Natural Tunnel State Park, only a 30-minute drive from Kingsport, in Scott County, Va.

"Summer is our busiest season with the bulk of our programs falling between Memorial Day and Labor Day," said Assistant Park Manager Ishmael Richardson Jr. "But we do offer several programs in the park during our shoulder seasons."

Currently, the park has a spring break geocaching program. The main office will have a scavenger hunt sheet for items on each trail, and visitors can rent a GPS at the Cove Ridge Center.

The park began in 1967 with the state of Virginia acquiring 100 acres surrounding the 850-foot-long tunnel, which is owned by Norfolk and Southern Railroad. Another 850 acres was added before the park was opened to the public in 1971. Today, it includes a 5,400-square-foot swimming pool, areas for picnicking, self-guided hiking through seven trails (none longer than 2.1 miles), and two campgrounds: Cove View Campground with 16 sites and Lover’s Leap Campground with 18 sites. Tent camping is also available. Other amenities at the park include nine cabins and a six-bedroom lodge open year-round, which can be reserved up to 11 months in advance, and guided canoe and kayak tours on the Clinch River.

"We’ll shuttle people to the river and provide canoes, life jackets and a guide to take them on different sections of the river," Richardson said.

The Sixth Annual Easter Egg Hunt for children up to 17 years of age is set for March 30 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Children will be separated into five hunt categories, and a free lunch at Shelter 5 will follow the hunt.

"Starting in April, we’re doing wildflower hikes," Richardson said.

The wildflower photography hike from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on April 6 will be guided by Scott County Extension Agent Scott Jerrell.

Also in April, Natural Tunnel State Park will host its 10th Annual Earth Day Rummage Sale. The sale will begin at 5 p.m. on April 19 and at 8:30 a.m. on April 20. The rain-or-shine event is sponsored by Friends Group of Natural Tunnel, with proceeds going toward purchasing items for the park.

"We’re on the Wilderness Road," Richardson said, referring to Virginia’s Heritage Migration Route. "So we do a lot of historical programming at our Blockhouse."

The "Stronger Than Blood" re-enactment will be presented by the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on April 20 and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 21 at the park’s Blockhouse. The park’s blockhouse is a representation of the Anderson Blockhouse, built in 1775 in East Carters Valley, Va., where traveling pioneers gathered. The re-enactment will show what the 300,000 settlers who traveled the Wilderness Road portion of the Great Wagon Road to Kentucky experienced.

Run the Tunnel, a scenic 3.8-mile road and trail race throughout the park, will be hosted by the State of Franklin Track Club on April 27. The race begins at 9 a.m. Also on April 27, the park hosts its 17th Annual Kids’ Fishing Day. The free event is for children between the ages of 3 and 12, but isn’t limited just to fishing. Children can also shoot BBs and try archery. Registration will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and fishing will be from noon to 3 p.m. State trout fishing regulations apply.

The park’s Cove Ridge Center will be the site for its Second Annual Plant Sale from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on May 4. Sponsored by the Scott County Master Gardeners, the sale will feature locally-grown plants.

Another outdoor activity at the park is its free Mother’s Day program at Shelter 4 in the picnic area, where participants will hike to find natural items to include in a flower arrangement they’ll create. Space is limited so reservations are required for that event.

Natural Tunnel State Park is located at 1420 Natural Tunnel Parkway in Duffield, Va. For more information, visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/nat.shtml or call 276-940-2674. For cabin, camping or picnic shelter reservations, call 1-800-933-PARK.

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