By Sarah Colson
On Friday, 7-year-old Maddison Hill took her best shot at guessing which pelt belonged to which animal during a pelt program taught by Seasonal Interpretive Ranger, Tanner Wells at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park in Limestone.
“That one definitely belongs to a moose!” she said confidently.
While there were no moose pelts to be found, Wells taught Hill about all the different pelts on display—from squirrels to coyotes to bears—and how Davy Crockett was an excellent hunter who used his prey to survive in the frontier days.
It was on this 104-acre piece of land where Big Limestone Creek flows into the Nolichucky River – in a small cabin of which a replica can still be viewed – that Crockett made his humble beginning in 1786. The Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park commemorates this nationally-recognized pioneer, soldier, politician and industrialist. This summer, the park staff is making efforts to remind people of the importance of connecting summer fun with historic significance.
The state park offers visitors a wide range of activities such as camping, hiking, fishing on the Nolichucky River, boat access, a swimming pool, a gift shop and museum, tomahawk-throwing, archery and of course Crockett’s historic cabin.
Park Manager Bill Knapp said Crockett’s fame extends far beyond the state border.
“I get people from all over the world to see where Crockett grew up,” he said. “There are people who come who can’t speak English, but they can sing the ‘Davy Crockett song.’”
One of the most attractive aspects of the park, other than Crockett’s fame, Knapp said, is its ability to help visitors escape the fast pace of life and sit back and relax next to the river or on one of the trails.
“The historic aspect initially gets people to come but once you get here, the park is very peaceful,” he said. “You can sit here next to the creek or Nolichucky and get some peace and quiet and relax.”
Knapp is hoping the park’s new improvements will provide fun, educational opportunities to park visitors. Last year a major renovation to the campground included re-doing of all the water and sewer systems and the addition of wi-fi in the camping areas. A lot of decaying trees were removed and parking lots and roads were re-paved.
The swimming area was updated and space was made for better fishing access. And in the next month or so, Knapp hopes to open up a new campground store to provide guests with access to basic necessities as well as general fishing and camping supplies.
“We’re trying to make things easier and more accessible for people,” he said.
With all of these improvements to the park itself, as well as the legacy of Crockett, Knapp is optimistic about its future.
Still, Knapp explained a bit of a disconnect between folks who just want to visit the park for its recreational opportunities and those who are only interested in the historic attractions. To help connect the dots, Wells is tasked with providing activities that will draw both crowds in at once, at least for this summer.
“As a whole, Tennessee is trying to really provide excellent programming for our guests and I think Tanner’s easily going to do that,” Knapp said. “He has the historical knowledge. He gets it. He knows everything about Crockett and pioneer lifestyle. He’s very prepared.”
Wells, who worked at Sycamore Shoals last year, plans and is in charge of all the programming at the park. His goal for the summer is to start having more historically-based activities located at the campgrounds to get campers’ attention. He said even small things like teaching others how to throw a tomahawk can be educational when the visitors learn about the weaponry used by Crockett in his day.
For Wells, educating others on the life of Crockett has huge benefits. Learning about the statesman’s early life and his difficulties, which include being sent away at the age of 12 to herd cattle in order to pay his father’s debts, can encourage those who may be facing difficulties of their own or teach them about being grateful for the opportunities they have today.
“Crockett’s early life was a difficult, frontiersman lifestyle,” Wells said. “For a lot of people, even wealthy people on the frontier, every day was a fight and a struggle for survival. A lot of people disregard the struggles of those who came before them and it’s hard to connect to the past when we have all these nice technological devices. But Crockett used the forest and his own intelligence and abilities to propel his way forward. It’s a case of classical American achievement. He went all the way to Congress.”
Wells is busy this week preparing for the Pioneer Camp Crockett this Saturday. This event is designed to help kids understand and experience their Appalachian frontier heritage of the early 1800s.
Wells will be there to guide kids in hands-on fun with archery, tomahawk throwing, fire starting and more. Then, in August, the park’s major annual event, Crockett Days, kicks off with living history demonstrations depicting life on the frontier. For more information on these events, camping in the park’s 88 campsites and more, contact the Visitors Center at (423) 257-2167, visit tnstateparks.com/parks/about/davy-crockett-birthplace or email Dawn.Elberbawy@tn.gov.