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Natural Tunnel State Park: Beauty just a short drive away

June 7th, 2012 4:45 pm by Jennifer Sprouse

Natural Tunnel State Park: Beauty just a short drive away

How far would you go to see one of the great wonders of the world?
How about if you only had to go a relatively short distance?
In Scott County, Va., approximately 13 miles north of Gate City and 20 miles north of Kingsport, sits a naturally created formation that William Jennings Bryan deemed as the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Natural Tunnel State Park, while a tourist attraction for out-of-state tourists and locals, has long had a place in the region’s history with a tunnel that is 850 feet long and 100 feet high.
“In the late 1800s, Norfolk Southern Railroad put a railroad track through the Natural Tunnel so they could access westward coal fields and to go through the tunnel was the easiest route for the railroad at that time,” Ishmael Richardson, assistant park manager at Natural Tunnel State Park, said.
According to the park’s website, the area took form when groundwater with carbonic acid filtered through, dissolving the limestone and dolomite bedrock. The tunnel formed slowly over centuries and even has traces of prehistoric life with fossils found in nearby creeks and on the tunnel walls.
“We have our visitor center at the tunnel, which gives the history and the culture of the area and, of course, the history of the tunnel, the geology of the formation of the tunnel,” Richardson said.
A chairlift is also available to visitors wishing to go down to the mouth of the tunnel.
“You can hike to the tunnel, but the trail’s relatively steep, so a lot of people like to ride the chairlift,” he said.
After becoming a Virginia state park in 1971, the grounds have undergone expansions hoping to draw in tourists.
Richardson said the nearly 1,000 acres at Natural Tunnel have many amenities for families and visitors, including 10 full-service cabins, hiking and biking trails, a conference center, a junior Olympic size swimming pool and picnic area.
“We also do canoe and kayak programs on the nearby Clinch River, which is a great program for families,” he said.
The park also hosts two main campgrounds, Cove View and Lover’s Leap, as well as a group site.
Natural Tunnel State Park’s main season each year is from Memorial Day to Labor Day, but he said he has seen increased amounts of people in the off-season as well.
“Part of the past 10 years, our season’s really expanded more than just the normal season,” Richardson said.
The fall and spring seasons have proved to be a popular time for the park, as well as the winter season where the park puts on a Christmas program with music and concessions down at the Natural Tunnel.
Richardson said he’s seen the park grow a lot over his 17 years, but believes a stay at the state park can provide something for every family looking into a different, less costly getaway.
“It’s a great family vacation,” he said. “I think with gas prices and the economy, we really see what we’ve seen lately ... more people coming here for their vacation, instead of maybe ... Gatlinburg or the beach.”
For more information on Natural Tunnel State Park, visit http://1.usa.gov/Hn8SmR.

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