Perfect Summer Escape
There are many reasons to visit south Alabama. One you probably haven’t heard of before is Little River State Park. Nestled between Monroe and Escambia counties, this 2,100 acre park is packed with family-friendly activities. The long-leaf pine-covered landscape offers beautiful scenery for perfect summer escapes.
Thomas Miller, manager of the park under Ironmen Outdoor Ministries (IOM), said his main goal for the park was to return it to the family-oriented atmosphere it used to be. Ironmen Outdoor Ministries is a nonprofit organization that ministers to disabled, children in need, the impoverished and the abandoned.
"In 2009, the Ironmen Outdoor Ministries began holding a fishing tournament for disabled children here. The organization fell in love with the park. But the state could no longer fund it and, in October 2010, we were told to start looking for another location," Miller recalled.
IOM instead put in place a management agreement with the state to keep the park open to the public, but with no state funding or employees.
"The first year was a struggle. We lived off donations and employees made below minimum wage," Miller added.
But now the park is thriving under its new management!
Looking for something fun to do? Perhaps you could get the family together for a Saturday afternoon of swimming along Little River’s spillway. Not a swimmer? Not a problem! There are lots of fun activities available for the whole family, including:
· Camping: What would a trip to this park be without camping? If you have your own trailer, the park provides electricity, water hookups and sewage hookups. There is unlimited space for primitive camping. There is a cabin (sleeps four) or mobile homes (sleeps six) available for rent.
· Hiking: Hiking around the park provides hours of fun exercise. There is also the chance to see some of the park’s ample wildlife including deer, turkey, rabbits, quail, and even bobcats and foxes! It is also a birdwatcher’s dream with many different types of birds making their home here.
· Mountain Bike Trail: For a real challenge, try your hand at the mountain bike trial. Winding up through the woods, the single-track portion of the trail is not extremely technical, but contains many fun elements like wooden bridges and climbing. It is only a couple miles long, but new trails get are often added.
· Zipline: No need to fear this fun-filled zipline with its 28,000 lb. cable to hold you up. A trained park employee straps a harness around you and sets you free from a tower on the bank, and then you speed down the line to hit the water where another trained employee releases you. As Miller said in reference to the zipline, "The smaller you are, the farther you’ll go. But the larger you are, the bigger the splash!"
· Boat Rentals: Yet another fun way to enjoy a day on the water, the boat rentals range from canoes and jon boats to pedal boats. You can even rent a trolling motor to go with your boat for an extra $10 per day.
· Fishing: Little River wouldn’t be the same without fishing. The 25-acre lake provides plenty of space to scout out the perfect spot.
· 3D Archery Range: Something fun for those with an adventurous side, archery is offered for one round or all day.
· Evening Gospel Singing: From April to October, the park hosts a gospel singing and dinner the last Friday night of the month. All acts are volunteers and start performing at 6 p.m. Atmore Truckers provides the delicious catfish for the gospel singing suppers, but fish is not always served.
All of these activities are available for a moderate entry fee.
Although there is no hunting allowed on a large-scale at the park, there is hunting for the disabled. This makes Little River State Park one of the few facilities available in Alabama. This hunting is part of IOM ministry program. Atmore Truckers sells the park wheat seeds and fertilizer for game plots to help keep the wildlife well-fed; making it almost certain visitors will spot some kind of critter.
Let’s jump on the history wagon for a moment. Two families, the Alger-Sullivan family and the Blacksher family, deeded the property to the Alabama Forest Commission under the stipulation the property be used as a state forest or state park. The park first went under construction in 1933 as President Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented several ideas to help pull people out of the Depression and back to work. One of these programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), designed to help rebuild natural resources by planting trees and constructing park facilities. What many people don’t know is that the lake is man-made. The soil removed from the lake bed was used to construct the dam and levee. Ironstone was collected from the area to create the spillway.
"I believe that spillway is the oldest waterslide in the United States," Miller said with a chuckle.
The CCC is responsible for constructing not only the lake, but also the Gazebo Trail, the office building, three cabins and all of the parks pavilions. Of the three cabins built, only one still stands. The first cabin to go was destroyed by a fire while the second was demolished by a tornado. The beautiful stone fireplaces still stand from the two lost cabins, as well as the complete foundation of the second. Upon a closer look at the standing pillars, names and dates can be seen carved into the stone that was also pulled from the lake bed to build the cabin foundations. The date most clearly seen on the pillars is March 22, 1935.
Little River State Park has so much to offer. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a family day out or you are looking for a place of historical value to research; this park has it all. No trip to south Alabama would be complete without a stop to this hidden gem!
Emily McLaughlin is a freelance writer from Uriah.