BSF reaches guests through interpretive programs


ONEIDA, Tenn. — Jacob Sexton seems right at home as he talks to Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area visitors about the tools and habits of Native Americans that settled the BSF region during prehistoric times.

He should. A recent graduate of Austin Peay State University, Sexton was more than just a football and basketball standout at Scott High School. He is the son of Gary Sexton — founder and curator of the Museum of Scott County that sits on the school’s campus in Huntsville.

The elder Sexton has long had an interest in the history of this northern Cumberland Plateau region, which he parlayed into the nation’s first student-built museum. His sons picked up on that interest.

At Saturday’s interpretive program at Bandy Creek Campground’s Campfire Circle event area, Sexton demonstrated a variety of traditional tools to about two dozen visitors — several of which he had built himself, including a traditional longbow, flint-tipped wooden arrow, and hand drill.

Sexton is but one of a staff of interpretive rangers at the Big South Fork who engage with the public during the summer months.

“What we’re trying to do is provide opportunities for our visitors to interact with rangers and learn,” says Big South Fork’s chief of interpretation, Bill Herman, who adds that having “the hat” — the distinctive hat worn by rangers — visible to visitors is imortant.

“We have programs that allow our rangers to be out in the park every single day between Memorial Day and Labor Day,” Herman said. “We don’t want to just be in the visitor center here at Bandy Creek, although we have rangers here every day, too.”

The week begins with a ranger at the popular Leatherwood Ford area on S.R. 297 each Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. There, they can guide visitors on hikes, or simply discuss the BSF. On Monday, a mountain bike program begins at the Bandy Creek Visitor Center at 9:30 a.m. and leads cyclists along the gentle Duncan Hollow Road. There are back porch talks with rangers at the visitor center every Tuesday and Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., and a ranger-led hike to the John Litton Farm every Thursday at 9:30 a.m.On Fridays, rangers lead hikers on the healthy hike of the week at 9:30 a.m.; this week’s hike will be to Angel Falls. Saturday is the busiest day of the week, with a 9:30 a.m. kids’ program at Bandy Creek, allowing them an opportunity to earn Junior Ranger badges, followed by a noon tour of Charit Creek Lodge in the BSF backcountry and a 7 p.m. campfire program at the Bandy Creek Campground.

Herman said it’s all part of a goal to make the BSF staff more visible and better engaged with the park’s visitors. The park service recently entered into an agreement with Scott County to have the Scott County Visitor Center in Huntsville staffed by rangers each Saturday and Sunday during the summer months. That allows the local visitor center to be open seven days a week during the summer, and adds to the BSF’s practice of staffing community visitor centers. BSF rangers also staff visitor centers at Historic Rugby, Stearns and Crossville.

Pictured: Jacob Sexton, an interpretive ranger at the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, demonstrates an antique method of using stones to grind food during an interpretive program at Bandy Creek Campground.

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