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Sinclaire Sparkman: Regrowing the trees in Cedars of Lebanon State Park

Sinclaire Sparkman • Updated Apr 14, 2017 at 1:00 PM

Last week I discussed the significance of the forest of cedar trees and the spring that sprang the town of Lebanon. 

There is more to the story of the cedars though, and for that we take a look at the Cedars of Lebanon State Park. 

As it stands today, Cedars of Lebanon State Park protects the largest existing stand of Eastern Red Cedars in the United States. It is home to various types of rare plants, such as the limestone flame flower and yellow sunnybell. There are hiking trails, camping areas, a swimming pool, cabins, a disk golf course and riding stables, which are currently closed for the year, among other facilities. The land became a state park in 1955 after passing through the hands of various government organizations. 

The soil is thin and rocky in the forest, and home to a network of underground caves. Sinkholes dot the land throughout the park as well.  

Cedars of Lebanon State Park grew out of a need to repair the land from deforestation. As discussed last week, the trees helped to grow the town, both with building material and otherwise. They were a major commodity for the people of Wilson County. Back in the early 1900s, trees fell one after the other as production turned them into things like pencils, fence posts and firewood. The mills were rocking and rolling and the industry brought by the timber made many healthy businesses. 

It wasn’t until the crops wouldn’t grow in the rocky soil bereft of trees that the workmen looked up from their saw mills and saw mostly cleared land where the beautiful red cedar trees had once stood in groves. 

It was the striking of the New Deal under Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression that brought renewed hope for the forest. Millions of federal dollars were approved for reclamation and restoration across the country, and people in Wilson County stepped up in an effort to get some help. In 1937, the Lebanon Cedar Forest formally opened, and some records show that Dixon Merritt, editor of the Lebanon Democrat at the time, presided over the ceremony and laying of cornerstone. 

The Workers Progress Administration helped to provide jobs to locals in Wilson County, who helped reseed and build facilities in the Cedars of Lebanon park. 

The reseeding was not just throwing some dried berries on the ground, though. In nature, the red cedars spread their seed by way of bird. Rather, the seeds germinate after passing through the digestive tract of birds that eat the berries. 

Workers established a nursery on park property to experiment with seedling growth efforts. Experiments included running seeds through a clothes ringer and refrigerating them in peat moss for 66 days, which the seeds did not survive; an attempt to mimic the acid in a bird’s stomach by soaking seeds in various chemical solutions, which turned out to be too complicated; and the final preferred method, freezing the berries in a block of ice for 21 days, depulping them, and then bringing about germination by keeping the seeds moist for 35 days. Thus, the cedar forest of Lebanon was reborn. 

Interestingly enough, the trees are not technically cedars as their cousins in the Bible, but junipers though they are known as Eastern Red Cedars, juniperus virginiana in science speak, and do bear similarities to the famous cedars of Lebanon in the Middle East. 

Native Americans used parts of the tree as a cure for a number of ailments. Some tribes brewed a tea from the berries to stop vomiting, some took the leaves and boiled them for an ingredient in a remedy for arthritis and back pain, some used red cedar tea to calm nerves or even to speed delivery during childbirth. Tea from red cedar boughs and cones were also used for colds fevers and pneumonia. 

As it stands today, Cedars of Lebanon State Park protects the largest existing stand of Eastern Red Cedars in the United States.  

Sinclaire Sparkman is The Democrat’s news editor. Email her at ssparkman@lebanondemocrat.com and follow her on Twitter @wilsoncoreports.

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