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Going Places: Natural Tunnel State Park

June 11th, 2012 11:29 am by Katina Rose

Going Places: Natural Tunnel State Park

The Wilderness Road Blockhouse offers glimpse into lives of early settlers.

The summer season is upon us and the kids are out of school. If you are looking for a fun getaway for the family without a lot of expense, consider visiting Natural Tunnel State Park in Duffield, Va. It is a quick and easy 30-minute drive from Kingsport, conveniently located off Route 23.

My family and I recently visited the park one warm and sunny Saturday for some outside activity time.

We entered the park and paid the $3 gate fee and proceeded on to the picnic area. There are many covered and uncovered tables to choose from and my girls quickly found the ideal picnic table for our packed lunch. It was conveniently located beside the well-kept playground area and across from the amphitheater. On the other side, we also had a nice view across a field of the Wilderness Road Blockhouse.

After we had finished off our food and the girls had explored the playground, we decided to visit the historic blockhouse. On our way, we drove by the swimming pool which seemed very busy considering the mild temperature. We hadn't brought swimsuits, but decided after viewing the large curving water slide that a trip back to swim one day would go on our summer activity list.

We arrived at the blockhouse and walked up the paved path to explore and learn more about the history behind the house. Upon entering, we were greeted by two historical guides who were very informative about the history of the original blockhouse that was located in East Carter’s Valley and owned by John Anderson. It served as a safe house for early settlers as they made their way west.

When you make the trip, be sure to ask about the small windows and the shape of the house. My girls were interested in the wool spindle upstairs and our guide in the blockhouse explained how the term "sleep tight" was thought to come from the rope beds made during that time period.

My oldest daughter enjoyed a piece of fresh baked bread from the outside brick oven and one of the guides explained the process for baking in the outside oven. She also enlightened my girls about the busy life kids had back then - with all the time-consuming chores. It made them appreciate the relaxing free time they have and our modern conveniences.

There is also a herb garden in the front yard area with a guide answering questions and explaining the different ways people used the herbs. The scenery is beautiful from the blockhouse, which sits atop a rolling field with the mountains in the background.

After we left the blockhouse, we went to the chair lift for our descent down the mountain to the view the 'natural tunnel.' This was what my six-year daughter had been waiting for the entire time and both girls thought the chair lift looked exciting. There is the option of walking down to the tunnel, and it is possible to purchase a one-way or round-trip ticket on the chair lift. We decided to buy the round-trip ticket for a $3 per person fee (those under 6 ride free) and enjoy the view and slight breeze while on the chair lift.

Once we safely made it down, we walked over to view the tunnel. Of course, both girls asked, "Do we get to walk through the tunnel?" Unfortunately, no, but the view looking up at the rock cliffs surrounding us and the large rock tunnel in the mountain was a visual experience to remember. After viewing the darkness in the tunnel, they decided it was probably best we were not able to walk through it.

On the other side of the chair lift is a short hiking trail to a log cabin that, according to the sign, is thought to be one the oldest houses in Scott County. The trail continues on through the woods, but we decided it was time to ride the chair lift back up and find the hiking trail for Lover’s Leap.

We easily found the hiking trail and set on our way to view the spot where the Cherokee maiden and Shawnee warrior decided to end their lives because of their forbidden relationship. As my husband was explaining the story to my 6-year-old, she was quick to reply, "Well that is crazy. Why didn’t she just find someone to marry that her father approved of?" Good point, but the story makes the hike and cliff overlooking the valley and natural tunnel a little more interesting.

If you are looking for swimming, camping, a nice picnic/playground area, historical information or a day on the hiking trails, Natural Tunnel State Park has something for all interests and ages. It is sure to be a favorite family outing this summer.

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