Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, February 5, 2017
Long Hunter State Park includes 2,600 pristine acres along 30 miles of shoreline in both Davidson and Rutherford counties. The area became a state park in 1974 and has four segments, including Couchville (center), Baker’s Grove (north), Bryant Grove (south) and Sellars Farm (Wilson County). The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
The Couchville Lake Arboretum Trail of two miles is a tremendous walk encircling Couchville Lake. Amid 42 species of trees on this route, one can witness a wild turkey, blue heron, osprey, bald eagle or an American mink. The wildflowers include species such as green dragon and mistflower. The path made history in 2008 as the first state-certified arboretum in a Tennessee State Park.
What captivates me is the deep Native American (Paleo) history of 12,000 years ago witnessed in antiquity on the grounds of the park. In the late 18th century, long hunters were trading with Indians in a profitable exchange. Some long hunters could earn a lofty $1,600 within a season.
The name of the park is derived from the long hunters of the 1760s who “experienced an extended length of time in the wilderness.” This small band of hunters (also known as surveyors) remained for six to 18 months and returned to Virginia with animal furs. Prominent hunters include Col. James Smith, James Knox, Kasper Mansker, Abraham Bledsoe and Uriah Stone. The hunters’ bountiful tales forged a great interest redolent of a better life for prospective settlers.
The park parameters were formed in 1968 by the impoundment of Stones River (originally Fish Creek), which was dammed for flood control and hydroelectric power. This basin carries a history of Native Americans, including Creek, Chickasaw, Shawnee and Cherokees.
Sellars Farm is an archaeological area comprised of an olden historical settlement dating 900-1500 AD. Flint tools, Clovis points and platform mounds have been discovered in this Mississippian village of the Paleo Indians. They lived among interesting rock outcroppings that one can view firsthand today.
In 1939, four intricately-carved sandstone statues were unearthed by farmer Clyde Sellars and revealed the sheer skill of the Indians. These pre-historic gems were carvings of ancestors and are now displayed at the McClung Museum in Knoxville. Gov. Bill Haslam recently signed into law designating “Sandy,” an 18-inch male statue, Tennessee’s official artifact. Sandy was also featured on a U.S. postage stamp.
The Paleo Indians harvested corn and were self-sufficient, as they lived on Spring Creek that flows into the present-day Cumberland River. There were approximately 100 small mounds on this expanse in the park, and they were primarily utilized to bury valuables. Archeologists have excavated pottery, pipes and eating utensils at this site. The Indians also had a palisade, a wooden fence surrounding the village, to protect them against attack.
When a secondary tribe of Cherokees abandoned claim on Stones River in 1805, settlers poured into our region. Sherrod Bryant (1820), a wealthy African-American, and the Couch family were two of the early inhabitants of this area and created a sensation in this untamed land. The Couch claim retained a store and river crossing north of Bryant Grove.
By 1968, Percy Priest Dam was constructed, forming Couchville Lake within the park. The five-mile Volunteer Trail connects Couchville and the panoramic Bakers Grove. Jones Mill Trail in Bryant Grove is directed to the apex of Bald Knob and is a beautiful view of a 14,000-acre Percy Priest Lake, created from the impoundment of Stones River.
Long Hunter Park is a jewel to be explored over time. I have been present at dusk to view deer running wild among the cedar glades and shorebirds flying low. As I quietly absorb the sunset simmering in a myriad of hues over Percy Priest Lake, I know I am home. This sacred protected property is a bonus to all residents of Rutherford County and is a cherished preserve for a new millennial.
Contact Susan Harber at [email protected].