After 45 years of making Cedars of Lebanon State Park his mission as well as his home and playground, Wayne “Buddy” Ingram has hung up his ranger hat.
Ingram, who officially retired March 15, resided in the park for 43 years. Its acres and acres of Eastern red cedars, glades and limestone outcroppings served as his personal but quite public backyard and a swell place to raise two sons.
Since Ingram began his career as a park attendant in 1975, he estimates visitor attendance has swelled from about a half million a year to more than a million in 2019.
“The development around the park has changed completely as it has gone from a rural park to an urban park,” he said of the greatest transition he has observed. “The use of the park has changed somewhat too. When I started it was more of a day-use park and the swimming pool was the big draw. Now we have a lot of overnight use and events like people having weddings.”
About his retirement, Ingram said, “I’ll soon be 66. I was the oldest ranger in the (Tennessee State Park) system, and there are so many younger people coming on. I feel like I got a lot accomplished the last five years as park manager, and I believe I got a lot accomplished before that.
“I wanted take more time off and fish and birdwatch and make music and do some volunteer work. I always liked to go to flea markets. I’m a big collector of antiques, especially stringed instruments,” said the banjo picker, who owns about 20 banjos and five guitars.
A park and a home
The Wilson County native’s roots reach deeply in the park, even before the site was developed as Lebanon Cedar Forest in the mid-1930s by the federal Resettlement Administration. His grandparents lived in a farmhouse within hollering distance of the nature center.
“This was my grandfather’s boyhood home. After the federal government bought the land, they moved. I grew up hearing him talk about Cedar Forest and what it meant to him. As a child, my family and I would come to the park and go to the swimming pool, and picnicking was a big thing for us to do,” said Ingram, a 1972 graduate of Lebanon High School. “So, I had a lot of association with the park while growing up, and as I got older, I would come to the square dances.
“I applied for a job when I was in college and started as a park attendant in 1975, hauling trash and doing maintenance. Whatever was the lowest thing you could do in the park, they had me doing.”
Ingram earned a degree in biology and plant science at Middle Tennessee State University. After two years as an attendant, became a park ranger the summer of 1977.
He described the park’s richest assets as “a combination of nature and history.”
“When you are here, you need to look at the cedar glades, the limestone, the sinkholes and discover the WPA (Works Progress Administration) history about how the park was started and its early communities out here that were taken away when the park was established. I like sharing that with people who come from out of state and out of the country,” Ingram said.
Ingram’s impact on the park
As for a few of his proudest accomplishments over the decades. he recalls the Tennessee Banjo Institute and the annual WPA Days event.
“When I was a park ranger, we started the Tennessee Banjo Institute, which was held in 1988, 1990 and 1992. We had people come to the park from all over the world to learn and play the banjo. There were people from Russia, England, Jamaica, Germany, Canada and other countries. And we started WPA Days about 10 years ago. I think it’s important for people to learn the history of the park,” he said.
“Over the last five years we’ve doubled the size of the park (now between 3,500 and 4,000 acres) after taking in Cedars of Lebanon State Forest and the Sadie Ford Farm.”
Stepping in as the park’s new manager is Jeff Buchanan, who lives in Norene within an owl hoot of the park’s boundary line. He worked beside Ingram at Cedars for five years before relocating to Long Hunter State Park 14 years ago where he was park manager the past five years.
Buchanan said about Ingram, “He’s synonymous, particularly in the county, with the Cedar Forest. You say ‘Buddy Ingram’ and people say, ‘Well, he’s out there with the Cedar Forest, isn’t he?’ The two go together.
“Since his taking over as manager, he’s done a huge facelift on the park, primarily on the facilities and on Sadie Ford Farm. The nature center down here has been redone since his tenure. Cedar Lodge been refinished. The campgrounds have been rebuilt. One of the WPA cabins has been completely redone and another is almost complete. The list just goes on of what Buddy’s accomplished here … He’s in the trees. You can’t talk about Cedar Forest without talking about Buddy.”
Another notch on Ingram’s belt came in 2011 when he had a grasshopper named in his honor: the Melanoplus ingrami, an insect that inhabits only the gravel zone of Cedars of Lebanon State Park’s cedar glades.
Ingram and wife, Lisa, are in the process of hopping to another historic site, the antebellum Fite-Williams-Ligon House in Carthage, which belonged to Lisa’s great-grandfather and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The retired ranger will continue to plunk the banjo in his old-time music band, The Gallinippers. Anyone who has been to the park’s WPA Days likely has seen and heard Ingram picking his banjo from the back of his 1932 Ford BB flatbed truck.
Ingram will be allowed to hold on to his hat and badge, while his legacy for nurturing and promoting Mother Nature continues to flow via his sons: Tyler, golf course superintendent at Bluegrass Golf and Country Club in Hendersonville, and Jacob, manager at Frozen Head State Park, 24,000 acres of wilderness in Morgan County.