By Susan Campbell, Thunder Radio
In 1993, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation that would allow private, nonprofit groups to organize for the purpose of “maintaining, and enhancing” the state park system. These groups are more commonly known as “Friends.”
According to the state, Friends are concerned citizens who have banded together to assist in protecting, preserving and promoting the beauty and the splendor of their favorite state park. They give selflessly of their time, talents and energy to help ensure the park’s integrity is intact for future generations to enjoy.
Currently, 50 state parks have active Friends organizations, including Tims Ford State Park, South Cumberland State Park, and one of the newest — Manchester’s Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park.
Chartered on March 5, 2019, Friends of Old Stone Fort began organizing in November of 2018, when Park Manager Keith Wimberley and Ranger Leigh Gardner attended the annual Friends of Tennessee State Parks meeting to gather information for forming a local branch. Interested individuals began working toward organizing in January of 2019, with the official charter happening two months later.
According to Joan Hartvigsen, board secretary, the Friends of Tennessee State Parks supplied a start-up grant to help pay for the costs of organizing into a nonprofit, and Nancy Schelin, state volunteer coordinator, attends all of the meetings to help with organization.
“Our mission is to support park staff in their drive to protect, preserve, promote and enhance Old Stone Fort as a center of cultural heritage and natural beauty,” Hartvigsen said.
To that end, the Friends have identified two projects to pursue: a certified arboretum on the Nature Trail and the Garrison Road Trail, and a boat shed to house the park’s canoes and kayaks. The group recently received funds from the Tennessee Trails Association (TTA) Evan Means Small Grants Program for the creation of the arboretum. This project is slated to be completed by the end of 2020.
According to the TTA, Evan Means was a journalist, author, conservationist, hiker, trail builder, originator of The Cumberland Trail, and co-founder of the Tennessee Trails Association. Means won countless awards for his work through the years to protect Tennessee’s natural resources and beauty, and was dedicated to projects that allowed hikers to enjoy this natural beauty.
“We need to raise funds for the boat shed, which is difficult to do during the pandemic,” Hartvigsen said.
The Friends of Old Stone Fort currently has 17 members, including Brian Wofford, president; Shawn Wolfe, vice president; Megan Chaput, treasurer; Hartvigsen, secretary; and Peggy Delaney, Kara Carden and Mariah O’Toole, members at large. Folks can join the Friends by stopping by the museum’s visitor center/museum, or by visiting Facebook at Friends of Old Stone Fort.
The next meeting of the Friends of Old Stone Fort is set for 6 p.m. Aug. 19 on the visitor center/museum’s roof. The public is invited.
In June, the Friends partnered with the park and Manchester Parks and Rec to hold a bicycle rodeo for children.
“We helped with the bike rodeo with over $1,000 worth of prizes, plus our Friends group helped with set up, refreshments and assistance,” said Wofford. The Friends received a $1,000 grant from the Jeff Roth Cycling Foundation for the bike rodeo.
Currently, the group is raising money for materials and help with construction of a canoe storage building at the park.
A program on honey bees has been set for Saturday, Aug. 15, National Honey Bee Day, at the park.
The state park is located on the site of the Old Stone Fort, which was actually dirt mounds, not stone. The fort was built during the Middle Woodland Period, 1,500-2,000 years ago. Native Americans used this area continuously for about 500 years, eventually leaving it abandoned. In 1966, the state of Tennessee purchased 400 acres of the Chumbley estate as the core of what is now Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park.