A Happy Ending for Cedars of Lebanon State Park
About 15 miles east of Nashville and five miles south of Lebanon there is a very special ecosystem. The combined 9,000 acres of Cedars of Lebanon State Park and Forest continues to be carefully studied by botanists.
The forest contains naturally occurring open gravely, rocky areas known as glades that feature little or no topsoil but specialized plants are able to survive the harsh conditions.
Some folks visit the Cedars of Lebanon State Park to enjoy staying in modern cabins, pulling up to one of the 117 shady camp sites, picnicking among the trees, or going for a cooling dip in the Olympic-sized pool.
Others come to enjoy the horseback riding, playing Frisbee golf, and hiking the park’s trails to visit glades and sinkholes. Weddings are often held in a rustic wood and stone structure built by the Works Progress Administration during the 1930s.
Wildflower lovers come to see some of the 19 rare plants that grow nowhere else in the world. The star of the show remains the Tennessee Coneflower (Echinacea tennesseensis), the first wildflower in the state to qualify as a federally endangered species. It was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered by Vanderbilt biology professor Dr. Elsie Quarterman in 1968.
The Cedar Glade Trail is a good spot to see coneflowers and other plants that can survive the parched summers, however, many have wilted in the recent 100-plus degree heat.
Last week when the temperature hit 103, Cathy and I cut our hiking through the glades short and headed for Jackson Cave and the flourishing wildflower rock garden at the Nature Center. We wished for bathing suits and a dip in the pool, but gratefully settled for cold drinks from our cooler.
The success of the Tennessee coneflower is intimately tied to the story of the dense forest of red cedar that inspired settlers during the early 1800s to name the area for the famed Biblical cedars of Lebanon believed to be used to build King Solomon’s Temple.
In reality, the red cedars of Middle Tennessee are members of the juniper family with red heart wood. The wood was in high demand because it is insect and decay resistant. It was used for items from pencils to log cabins and telegraph poles to chests for protecting woolens. Much of the forest fell in this area by the early 1900s.
During the 1930s the combination of thin soil, limestone rock and farming practices left the owners of about 60 small farms in the area barely able to scratch out a living during the Great Depression.
The federal government bought farms, resettled families and began an ambitious project to reclaim the Cedars of Lebanon forest. As the reforestation got underway during the 1940s botanists noted the unusual cedar glades.
Today visitors find Cedars of Lebanon State Forest, one of eight National Natural Landmarks in Tennessee, a flourishing population of Tennessee coneflowers that was removed from the endangered list in August 2011 and opportunities to enjoy this unusual setting throughout the year – and for many years to come.