Summer solstice

Pointing to the entrance of Old Stone Fort Archeological State Park, Ranger Leigh Gardner invites early risers to join her at the park 5:15 a.m. Friday, June 21, to enjoy the summer solstice sunrise.  The entrance was designed to face the exact spot on the horizon where the sun rises during the summer solstice.

Park Ranger Leigh Gardner invites locals to join her and other park rangers to enjoy the sunrise at Old Stone Fort State Archeological Park on the longest day of the year, Friday, June 21.

“The summer solstice sunrise event will take place 5:15 a.m. on June 21 and will last approximately two hours,” Gardner said.

Getting up so early will be worth it, she said.

“Visitors will participate in a sunrise viewing from the park,” she said. “We will also start a mini bonfire and discuss how the Native Americans may have celebrated this event.

“We are not certain how the Woodland people would have celebrated this event,” Gardner said. “It is likely that there would have been a community gathering at Old Stone Fort and they would have lit fires as part of their ceremony.”

The summer solstice was likely very significant for Native Americans.

“The summer solstice represents the longest day of the year,” Gardner said. “Indigenous peoples have celebrated this and similar celestial events for centuries. While little information is known about the Woodland people specifically, archaeologists and anthropologists suspect that these people possibly would have celebrated this event by gathering at Old Stone Fort to participate in communal prayers, dancing and feasts.

“Those who attend this event will have the privilege of learning about the ancient culture of the people who once inhabited this area.”

The Old Stone 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. By the time European settlers arrived, it was unclear what the area had been used for and that resulted in misnaming it as a fort. In 1966, the state of Tennessee purchased 400 acres as the core of what is now Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park.

“We will then participate in a 1.25-mile hike of the Enclosure Trail.”

The main hiking trail follows the wall of Old Stone Fort. The wall was used by the Native Americans as a ceremonial gathering place.

The trail threads through beautiful scenery where visitors can see the original entrance of the fort which was designed to face the exact spot on the horizon where the sun rises during the summer solstice.

Gardner is looking forward to the event.

“I enjoy waking up early to greet the sun on the first day of summer,” she said.

To learn more about the park, visit tnstateparks.com/parks/old-stone-fort.

Elena Cawley may be reached via email at ecawley@tullahomanews.com.