Old Stone Fort’s Enigma
On a natural plateau where the Duck and Little Duck Rivers converge, travel back through time as you explore an ancient enigma known as Old Stone Fort that rises with long earthen mounds, or walls, four to six feet high and 16 to 20 feet thick at the base enclosing a 50-acre plain.
It isn’t likely that Old Stone Fort was used as a fortification because radiocarbon dating determined that various sections of the walls were built and re-built between 30 A.D. and 430 A.D. by Middle Woodland Indians. A fort would more likely have been constructed quickly for protection.
The entranceway to the enclosure is oriented toward the sunrise on the summer solstice and archaeologists believe Old Stone Fort is more likely a point of some sort of ceremonial significance, perhaps sacred, perhaps social, or even political, built by a culture that was increasingly less nomadic, more socially stratified and capable of taking on such a massive building project.
The four-hundred-acre site was purchased by the state of Tennessee in 1966. A stone museum and visitors center is tucked into hillside beneath a beautiful stone plaza offers maps of trails, restrooms and exhibits.
There’s a small native plant garden just outside the entrance with dwarf crested iris, St. John’s wort and jack-in-the-pulpit but to feel the mystery of Old Stone Fort first-hand, put on some comfortable shoes, grab a bottle of water and follow the tree-lined walkway to the 1.25-mile Wall Trail. The broad, easy trail follows along the earth and rock walls surrounding the enclosure through woods with towering 400-year-old trees, to remnants of mills that once thrived on the Duck River bluffs and past a trio of waterfalls.
Fifty-one campsites, picnic areas, fishing and canoeing provide additional opportunities to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. I add canoeing hesitantly. The mile-long riverine lake is deep enough for canoeing and fishing but I don’t recommend trying to canoe the Duck River below the dam unless we get more rain this summer. The recent hot, dry period has reduced the river’s flow a great deal; however, Big Falls is still a splendid cascade as are Step Falls and Blue Hole Falls.
You are in for a special treat if you visit on July 21 during Archaeo-Olympics. This day-long event is free and includes a series of challenges for all skill levels that starts at 8:30 A.M. with a useful/medicinal plant identification followed by useful rocks and soils identification, a hike searching for wildlife and an afternoon of challenges using the atlatl spear thrower, blowgun and rabbitstick. Besides having fun and winning bragging rights, the top three contenders in each group will receive “valuable trade goods.” Give the rangers a call at 931-723-5073 or email Hobart.firstname.lastname@example.org for more details if you plan to attend.