Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator
If you have visited the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center within the past couple of years, chances are you may have spoken to me. Naturally, visitors often ask how else they can experience Clarksville after leaving the Museum. Based on their interests, I usually suggest another site of cultural or historical interest. Dunbar Cave State Park is one of my local favorites, as the park appeals to a wide range of interests. Museum guests can learn about certain aspects of the park at the Museum, and then follow-up their visit with a trip to Dunbar Cave State Park. Let me share five fantastic ways in which our Museum guests can get the most enjoyment out of our local state park.
As state parks and other public institutions begin to reopen following the nationwide COVID-19 closures, chances are you and your family are ready to get out of the house *finally!* for a wholesome outing. With its fresh air and expansive grounds, Dunbar Cave State Park is a great option for easing out of quarantine. Still, it’s a good idea to continue to take precautions before arriving at any public place. Also, keep in mind some park services may still be temporarily suspended, so plan accordingly.
Walk a Trail
Dunbar Cave State Park boasts 144 acres of land, a large portion of which includes beautiful trails weaving throughout the surrounding woods. For those of us who just want to experience a little nature, there’s a Short Loop, and for the more exuberant hikers, there is a longer Recovery Trail. At different times of the year, a wide range of flowers, other plants and wildlife are visible on the trail. Dunbar Cave trails are also a wonderful way for families to enjoy the outdoors together, and a great way to introduce little ones to hiking and nature. The trails offer a great opportunity to point out details to kids, explain trail markings and maybe see a deer or two! Also, the park is a favorite place for locals to leave painted rocks, so have a scavenger hunt! The trails are now open and accessible from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Remember to take appropriate precautions when encountering fellow hikers.
Check Out an Event
Throughout the year, Dunbar Cave hosts a myriad of events to enjoy. In the summer, school-aged children can register for Junior Ranger Camp, where they learn about safety in the woods as well as the history of the cave. Also, check out bird and butterfly events, movie showings at the mouth of the cave, Candlelight Yoga and spooky events around Halloween! Some are free and some have a cost associated, so be sure to plan your visit accordingly.
Go On a Bird Hunt
If you have spent time admiring our impressive collection of Boehm Porcelain, you may also enjoy searching for real birds. Enjoy the up close and personal experience in our Museum, then go find their living counterparts in nature! Dunbar Cave State Park is home to several species of birds; you can even download a bird checklist from their website here.
Soak Up the History
Classic country music lovers will enjoy discovering that Roy Acuff of the Grand Ole Opry formally owned Dunbar Cave in the 1940s. During his ownership, the park was a recreational resort. Radio shows and live performances were held at the cave during this time. Due to the cave’s natural air conditioning, Dunbar Cave was a prime location for parties decades before the country music legend came along, however. Thanks to the discovery and capitalization of a nearby natural spring, a popular resort and hotel sprang up. Structures from the park’s resort can be spotted by the vigilant observer. The visitor center is housed in a 1933 bathhouse, and if you look at the flower garden out front, you’ll see remnants of a swimming pool. Don’t forget to watch our video about Dunbar Cave’s history in our ‘Becoming Clarksville’ exhibit as a preamble to your park visit!
Join a Cave Tour
Of course, the Dunbar Cave experience isn’t complete without a cave tour. Caves are protected portals to prehistory, taking millions of years to form and with very little change taking place throughout human history. Dunbar Cave is an amazing reservoir of historical memory for Clarksville and Montgomery County. Human beings have enjoyed Dunbar Cave for thousands of years, knowledge of which is thanks to an archaeological discovery in the cave about 15 years ago. The cave tour highlights Mississippian Native American pictographs visible on the walls and other ancient artifacts, as well as Civil War-era graffiti and evidence of other uses Dunbar Cave has served in more recent centuries. Dunbar Cave was once designated as a nuclear fall-out shelter during the Cold War and stocked with supplies, the remnants of which can still be seen. Children at least 5 years old can also join cave tours. Pointing out the stalactites and stalagmites in our Bubble Cave is a fun way to introduce little ones to internal cave structures before going. Pre-registration is required for cave tours. However, cave tours are suspended until further notice. Check out their website to stay up-to-date and to register when it becomes available.
Please visit Tennessee State Parks’ website to learn more about Dunbar Cave.