LONG HUNTER STATE RECREATION PARK Main entrance: 2910 Hobson Pike (South Mt. Juliet Road), 7½ miles south of I-40 Hours: 7 a.m.-sunset dailyPhone: 885-2422More info: www.tn.gov/environment/parks/LongHunter, www.friendsoflonghunter.comTRAILS(Unless noted, pets allowed on a leash)Couchville Lake Trail: 2 miles, hard surface, barrier free, pets prohibitedNature Loop: ¼ mile trail, pets prohibitedInland Trail: ¾ mile trail Bryant Grove Trail: 4 miles, pets prohibitedDay Loop: 4 milesVolunteer Trail: 6 milesDeer Trail: 1 mileJones Mill Mountain Bike Trail: 4 miles Tyler Sykes Trail: 1-mile loop JULY PARK EVENTS Cedar Glade Stroll: 7 p.m. Sunday, July 3: Walk through coneflower country and discover what plants are in full bloom. Meet at the Couchville Cedar Glade parking lot. Contact park office for directions, 885-2422. Dancing in the Park: 6 p.m. Friday, July 9: Step back in time as you learn about the history of the park and learn how to swing dance. Meet in the park office visitor’s center.Stories of the Ancient Ones: 9 a.m., Saturday, July 17: Walk back in time at the Sellars Farm Archaeological Site as Mississippian period Native-American culture will be discussed. Meet at the Sellars Farm Archaeological Site southeast of Lebanon. Contact park office for directions, 885-2422.Butterflies and Blazing Star: 1 p.m. Saturday, July 24: The blazing stars are in full bloom, and Long Hunter’s wide array of butterflies and moths are flocking in droves to the colorful blooms in our recently restored prairie. Learn about caterpillars, tiger swallowtails, hummingbird moths and other unique insects. Meet at office parking lot. Among those assisting visitors to Long Hunter State Recreation Park are, from left, park ranger Thurman Mullins, secretary Vicki Medley, seasonal interpretive ranger Ponda Armstrong and ranger Jeremy Blackwell.KEN BECK / The Wilson Post By KEN BECKSpecial to The Wilson PostIt’s no secret anymore. A mere mile or so beyond the Wilson County line lies one of Tennessee’s most popular state parks. Long Hunter State Recreational Park with its 2,600 acres along the southeast shore of J. Percy Priest Lake drew 850,000 visitors last year; double that of 2001. And it’s no wonder with the variety of activities available that include hiking, mountain biking, camping, fishing, swimming, boating and observing wildlife. “The area has developed so much that we have become like a city park. People are looking for a place to go out and get away from everybody,” said Park Manager Thurman Mullins.“The park is in Davidson and Rutherford counties, and a great deal of the park borders Wilson County. People come for a variety of reasons. It provides a place to go hiking, fishing, camping, for holding family reunions, observing nature and a place to contemplate.“We have over 30 miles of shoreline and 30 miles of hiking trails. A lot of people from Wilson County consider this their park. We have a lot of Eagle Scout projects here, mostly from Wilson County. I see a tremendous amount of people here from Wilson. No question to that. It’s so close. You can be in Mt. Juliet in 15 minutes or Lebanon in 20 to 30 minutes.”The main entrance to the park is but a 10-minute drive south of Providence MarketPlace Shopping Center on South Mt. Juliet Road, which changes into Hobson Pike.“The main attraction is Area 2 Couchville Lake, a 110-acre lake separate from J. Percy Priest Lake,” Mullins said. “There is a pier to fish from and five short piers. On Tuesdays through Sundays during summer months, you can rent john boats and canoes (the fee is $5 an hour or $10 for half a day). Year round you can put in a boat, as long as it doesn’t have a gasoline motor.“The biggest thing here is a 2-mile paved trail that goes all the way around the lake. It‘s barrier-free for wheelchairs and baby strollers.”Taking advantage of the Couchville Lake Trail practically every weekday morning is David and Sue Stacey of Lebanon.“We come about every day because of the ease of the trail, the sheer beauty of it, and it’s a safe place to come to,” said David, whose wife is wheelchair-bound. “This is how we keep her going, and she loves it. She likes looking for deer and turkey. If not for this, she’d be sitting in the house all the time. It takes us about 45 minutes to circle the lake.” While the lake trail pleases walkers and joggers, it also bedazzles bird-watchers, who may spot crown herons, green herons, great blue herons, osprey, pileated woodpeckers and other species. Meanwhile, photographers are discovering this is a great place to capture the creatures through their lenses. The area also features picnic shelters with tables and a playground that looks like a pirate ship.For flower lovers, Sykes Trail is the place to view the Tennessee purple coneflower from late May to early July. Another popular site at the park is the 3½-mile Jones Mill Mountain Bike Trail that, when complete, will stretch 10 miles.“Jones Mill is probably my favorite trail,” Mullins said. “It goes through Eastern woodlands, glades and on up to Bald Knob, the highest point on J. Percy Priest Lake, which offers a beautiful view of the whole lake. The trail is shaded most of the way. You can hike it or bike it. It’s also a good wildlife trail. On it I’ve seen red-tailed hawks, warblers and deer.”For those who like to get wet, the Bryant Grove Recreation Area is it. Named after Sherrod Bryant, an African-American who owned a plantation here before the Civil War, it is the only place in the park that allows swimming and features a beach. “People like to come jump in the lake. There will be several hundred folks swimming here on Saturdays or Sundays. Long Hunter is used as a recreational area, historical park and natural area. You get a variety of people who come here for a variety of reasons, and Bryant Grove is purely recreational. About three-fourths of car tags I see here are from Wilson County,” Mullins said.The park manager, who came here in 1978, left in 1980 and returned in 2001, doesn’t work alone. The staff includes horse-mounted Ranger Jeff Buchanan, Ranger Matt Blakney, Ranger Jeremy Blackwell, conservation workers Joe Lannom and Jim Bunday, clerk Roger Uhles, secretary Vicki Medley and Seasonal Interpretive Ranger Ponda Armstrong.Armstrong, a Brentwood native, is a biology major at Tennessee Tech and offers nature interpretive programs and recreational programs during the week, including a 10 a.m. Monday program for preschoolers.“I love nature. I think children don’t get out and experience it enough. I introduce them to nature and plant a seed of care for the park and to want to preserve it,” said Armstrong, who monthly presents 15 to 16 programs, such as a cedar glades stroll or moonlight canoeing to boys’ and girls’ clubs, church and Scouting groups. The park was formed in 1968 when the Stones River was impounded by the Army Corps of Engineers for flood control and hydroelectric power. It began as a satellite park of Cedars of Lebanon State Park in 1974, the same year that the Sellars Farm Archaeology Site with its famous Indian mound became a satellite of Cedars. Today the farm site is part of Long Hunter even though it lies 4 miles southeast of Lebanon off Sparta Pike, along Poplar Hill Road.“The Sellars Farm is a valuable archaeological site, and through its preservation, people can walk through and get a feel for what the Mississippian Indians were like. They were the dominant people and had villages all though this part of the country,” Mullins said. “It’s both a nature area and archaeological area. There are self-guided programs in the kiosk there, and the site also provides an opportunity to learn about and see dragonflies birds, butterflies and other animals.”Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.