Let’s face it though, summer is the season typical Americans are spending frivolously on road trips, movies, baseball games and finally vacations. Vacations are what push everyone to work so hard through the cold and dreary winter months. Everyone dreams about that relaxing trip to the ocean. ‘Ahhh’, it’s always lovely to sit on a warm sandy beach, watch the tide roll in, it’s paradise. Consequently, that trip to paradise has become increasingly expensive as a result of rising gas prices. Many popular travel companies boast they can save customers a great deal of money, however the average cost of one hotel room in Florida is estimated to be between $100 and $160 per night. When that cost is added into the cost of merely driving there and food allowances, it deals a devastating blow to your wallet.
Necessary elements to a successful family trip include any combination of the following: Excitement, beautiful scenery, exhilarating activities, family togetherness and maybe some relaxation before heading back to work. Luckily, all of those things can be achieved at home.
Cumberland Gap National Park encompasses them all. It can spark a new respect for the phenomenal beauty in Appalachia that we take for granted every day. The park puts together a plethora of great hikes, festivals and programs that many members of the community don’t even realize.
Each summer, the park does 1.5 mile cave tours through Cumberland Gap Cave. A fascinating highlight of the expedition is the gurgling stalactite or talking stalactite. The stalactite is quite common, however it displays one peculiarity: It surprisingly mimics the sound of a tree frog or a chirping cricket. The sound is usually produced by water droplets. The tours meets at the Daniel Boone parking area daily at 10 a.m. and charge an adult admission of only $8 and a children’s admission of $4 through September 4.
In addition, the park provides shuttles atop Brush Mountain to Hensley Settlement. The three to four hour long tours are educational and provide a doorway to our rich Appalachian history. With so many sites and buildings on the tour it’s easy to feel overwhelming tranquility from the hustle and bustle of today and long to stay on the majestic mountain. Walking through a haunting old school house or strolling through lush fields lined in picket fence virtually transports any visitor back in time. This tour will definitely make you long for the simpler times, as you can really just relax and breathe, without worrying about charging too much on the old Visa card. These daily tours are only $10 for adults and $5 for children.
So much of nature’s splendor can be discovered deep in the woods of Appalachia. Hiker and Atlanta based Aaron Houston gushes, “This area is beautiful, and the park offers camping and hiking (plenty of trails). Plenty of places to have a picnic.” Yet, he warns, “[if] you have an opportunity to hike up to the gap be sure to have some durable shoes on. The trails tend to incline.”
Hiking any trail in the park is free of charge. For those more adventurous explorers longing to discover natural surroundings at their own pace there are 20,000 sprawling acres to delve into at Cumberland Gap National Park, and over 70 miles of trails and camping grounds. All hiking trails range in difficulty from easy to challenging. Setting out to discover the rolling hills of the south permits one to visit geologic formations, civil war fortifications, hand-hewn cabins, and split rail fences as well as observe bear, deer, bobcat, fox and 150 species of birds in their natural habitats. Exceptionally breathtaking photographs can be achieved throughout the park, so don’t forget the camera.
When one grows tired from exploration of utopian sand caves and cascading water falls, the park’s camp grounds are located three miles from the visitor center off of Highway 58, in Virginia. It hosts 160 sites that provide electrical hook up for only $17 per night and only $12 for a sight without electricity. Expensive hotels on the beach pale in comparison to spending a mere $17. Exploring your proverbial “back yard” also imparts the perk of always having the ability to travel home at the end of the day and not have any nightly fees.
Still, for those lacking enthusiasm for hiking the grand mountains, Cumberland Gap National Park is active in supporting the arts as well. The park teamed up with the Asheville, North Carolina based Southern Highland Craft Guild to host The Craft Heritage Celebration, which took place over the weekend. Manager of the Southern Highland Craft Guild store, Lynn Stanley has hosted the festival for the past five years, “Every year we host it during the last weekend in July,” she explained. Crafts are available for purchase, but during the celebration, the public watched crafters at work. There was a weaver with loom, a spinner spinning, someone doing macram/ and live music was played on the psaltery. The occasion displayed a wealth of beautiful handcrafted art ranging from traditional Appalachian craft to contemporary art.
“This year we have all Tennessee artists. We didn’t plan it that way. But, it is a prerequisite that all artists be residents of Appalachia,” Stanley said. This unique event brought the community together to admire the wood carvings of Bill Henry, spinning of Dale Liles, bowed psaltery of Rick Long and loom weavings of fiber artist, Peggy Whitted.
Anne Freels displayed her corn shuck dolls at the festival. “The connection was powerful for me,” Freels states “and not just because I had found an art form that I was crazy about, but because it linked me to my paternal heritage that I grew up and around in, and allowed me to accept and appreciate the Appalachian American in myself. I became a student of the culture instead of a whiner about it. Proud instead of ashamed.” She reveals that she is enjoying “keeping this Appalachian art alive.”
For the vacationer that longs to kick back and truly be entertained, there is Evening Around the Campfire every Saturday at 8 p.m. This isn’t your typical weenie roast, though. The chronicles of war soldiers, game hunters and famous travelers are narrated while red hot embers pirouette above the fire until disappearing into the dusky, summer sky.
The park sees an importance for the region’s men and women to connect with their solid roots that are so deeply planted in these mountains. There is no better way to do that than by taking Kentucky’s Laureate, Dr. Thomas D. Clark’s advice and really investing time into the natural resources available and visiting Cumberland Gap. As one of the most notable historians, he listed it as the number one site (of eleven) that every Kentuckian should visit. So, before cramming the family in the gas guzzler and heading out on the hectic 10 hour trip to the beach that is always a little more crowded and a lot more polluted than you recall, consider a trip to Cumberland Gap National Park instead.
Elizabeth Hoskins is a guest writer for the Middlesboro Daily News. Contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.