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Randy Hedgepath is Tennessee’s only state naturalist, and has over 30 years of experience with Tennessee’s state parks.

Tennessee’s only state naturalist Randy Hedgepath gave a presentation at the Fairfield Glade Community and Conference Center about his Tennessee State Park experiences in an event hosted by Positively Glade on June 13.

With the attendees assembled, Positively Glade President Bill Boothe gave a short recap of Positively Glade’s upcoming events before Beth Wedgworth quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson and said, “Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience,” and introduced Hedgepath.

Hedgepath is literally the face of Tennessee Brew Works State Park Blonde Ale with his face on the label. A portion of the State Park Blonde Ale’s sales goes to the Tennessee State Park Conservancy.

Hedgepath began with Tennessee state bird and tree, the mockingbird and tulip poplar. The mockingbird’s ability to mimic other bird cries is similar to the brown thrasher’s except its songs are lengthier. He said he noticed residents of Fairfield seemed to overwhelmingly prefer the bluebird, and despite demonstrating his ability to perform a variety of bird calls, he admitted to being unable to perform the bluebird’s song. He mentioned bluebirds have two sets of vocal cords, which he learned from his biology professor. He also recounted some facts on the tulip poplar. 

“Everybody voted for the tulip poplar because it’s everywhere in Tennessee and worth lots of money,” said Hedgepath. “Nothing like ‘worth lots of money’ to get your votes.”

The tulip poplar is among the taller and fastest growing trees in the eastern United States, making it an ideal and lucrative choice as timber. 

“Only California has taller trees,” Hedgepath said.

He then talked about how Tennessee’s original state flower, the purple passion flower, was eventually replaced by the iris due to lobbying by garden clubs in the 1930s. 

“They petitioned the state and we had a new state flower that doesn’t grow in the wild in Tennessee,” Hedgepath said. “It only grows in well-manicured gardens like you have here in Fairfield. The blue flag iris is our… cultivated state flower. And this [passion flower] is our state-flower flower.” 

While the iris is the state’s cultivated flower, the purple passion flower remains the state’s wildflower. 

Hedgepath spoke about various parks, rivers and forests he has been to and their natural landmarks. His photos showed peaks and bluffs of various sizes, coloration and stature overlooking miles upon miles of forest; sometimes untouched by human hands. He showed photos of trees rendered almost extinct and are now still endangered growing on the tops of rocks. The slides also highlighted various rivers, one of which had to be crossed dozens of times on a single hiking trail. He spoke of many trails spanning across miles of forest leading to gigantic waterfalls. One of the caves was Devil’s Step Hollow at the head of the Sequatchie and contains some of mankind’s earliest records in the form of cave drawings.

Virgin Falls near Sparta was a notable highlight.

“My predecessor said that the first time he saw it was from an airplane,” Hedgepath said. “This guy was flying him across the Plateau, they were looking down at the forest and saying ‘Ah, isn’t it wonderful? So much green.’ Then he looks over and there’s a little silver streak in the middle of all that green. So he asked to fly over there and there was no creek running to it, there’s no creek running away from it. There’s just a waterfall out in the middle of the forest; comes out of a cave [and] falls 110 feet back into another cave.”

Hedgepath described the trek to see Virgin Falls as he said, “You will pay to see this. It is four miles in, four miles out and one of the most incredibly difficult trails in the whole state of Tennessee. So we don’t charge you $10, but you will pay!”

Following Hedgepath’s presentation, audience members asked questions. One notable question asked was, “How much of our state is protected by state parks?” Hedgepath responded, “Less than 1%. We don’t have enough parks.”