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Tennessee offers variety of outdoor entertainment

By Whitney Palmeter
On January 29, 2014

For natives and newcomers alike, the state of Tennessee brings to mind images of rolling hills, rugged mountains, peaceful valleys, tranquil streams and beautiful scenery.
The National Park Service reported in 2012 that Tennessee is home to 12 national parks, 12 national natural landmarks and 30 national historic landmarks.
"There are a lot of great opportunities, a lot of great resources in the Appalachian region, which is a very desirable region of the country to visit, to live, to explore," said David Mueller, Outdoor Adventure coordinator for East Tennessee State University Campus Recreation.
Holly Frerichs, a sophomore business major at ETSU and student worker for Outdoor Adventure, thinks that anyone can benefit from outdoor activity.
"It's good to get away from the stress of the city," Frerichs said. "It's good for physical and mental health, too."
Cody Grandfield, a junior broadcasting major at ETSU and student worker for Outdoor Adventure, agreed with Frerichs and said that "solitude is a good part" about being in the outdoors.
Whether a short-term college student or long-time resident in Johnson City, the area has many outdoor activities, as well as scenic parks nearby.
"You say 'city,' but it's actually not hard to find outdoor things to do,"  Frerichs said.
While some places require a little driving, many of the outdoor areas in and around Johnson City will only cost visitors their time.
Buffalo Mountain Park, two-and-a-half miles from ETSU, is a nature reserve free of charge to guests. Located on the north side of Buffalo Mountain, the terrain is steep and the land is densely forested. It offers areas for picnicking, hiking and nature programs.    
For those looking to hike, Laurel Fork Falls is a great place to explore. Located in Hampton, Tenn., it is about 15 miles outside of Johnson City. This trail hike winds back into the woods of Cherokee National Forest. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, there are two ways to reach the falls.
From the Laurel Falls Trailhead, it is a 2.5-mile hike to the falls, and from the Dennis Cove Appalachian Trailhead, it is about 1.3 miles to the falls. The hike is of moderate difficulty. Laurel Fork Falls is a scenic 40-foot tall and 50-foot wide waterfall.
Along the way, hikers will experience the beauty of nature and the peacefulness of the woods.
Closer to ETSU, Winged Deer Park is free to visitors who are not renting shelters. It is located on the Bristol Highway. The 200-acre park features a Frisbee golf course, soccer and softball fields, a lakefront, a sand volleyball court, walking and running trails, picnic shelters and a green space. This park is a good place to bring a lunch and some friends to spend the day enjoying the outdoors.
For students at ETSU who do not want to travel far, the Veteran's Memorial Park is a free option.
Located right across the street from the university's main campus, this quiet park is a great place to get away, take a walk, bring a picnic or strap a hammock to a tree and take a nap.
The scenic grounds are full of trees, but do not take visitors far away from Johnson City.
There are even opportunities on campus for ETSU students to get involved in the outdoors. The ETSU website explains the goal of Campus Recreation Outdoor Adventure: "We are committed to providing enjoyable, challenging and affordable programs that allow participants to learn skills necessary to safely enjoy the outdoors. Our goal is that these experiences will develop attitudes and behaviors that foster connectedness to the environment, the Earth and to one another."
Students can get involved through the climbing wall at the CPA or through going on trips that are taken throughout the semester, both of which will connect them to other students who enjoy the outdoors.
Outdoor Adventure's day trips from the fall 2013 semester included stand up paddling at Boone Lake, Watauga Lake, Nolichucky River and French Broad River as well as camping in Cherokee National Forest, Unaka Ranger District. There were also hikes at Buffalo Mountain, Rock Creek Falls in the Unaka Mountains, Gum Fire Tower and Lone Oak.
Grandfield said that two memorable trips he has been on include a backpacking trip to Grayson Highlands and a hiking trip at Table Rock State Park. His favorite part about Grayson Highlands was the "ponies and the views."
The calendar for all the 2014 spring semester trips will be updated with the beginning of the year, so any students interested can check the Outdoor Adventure page on ETSU's website for details.
"In January and February, we will offer a ski shuttle to local ski resorts," said Mueller.
According to Mueller, two spring trips coming up include a Grayson Highlands backpacking trip and a canoeing trip on the New River in Ashe County, N.C. Grayson Highlands, located in Virginia, is a state park near Mount Rogers and Whitetop Mountain, Virginia's two highest mountains.
It offers high-altitude peaks with scenic views, campgrounds and hiking trails leading to waterfalls and scenic overlooks.
There is even a horse trail, where hikers can see wild horses. The New River is one of the oldest rivers on the continent and central to New River State Park. It is a calm river that is good for canoeing.
Mueller advises any interested students to come over to the Basler Center for Physical Activity and get involved.

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