April 2015
Outdoor Life

From Gravel Pit to Geo-Tourism Site

  Magnolia Branch General Manager Billy Smith stands before the entrance to the park. Opposite, Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve has over 600 acres of camping area, surrounded by pristine timberland and a spectacular waterfront along Big Escambia Creek. Wildlife and thousands of birds call this area home.

Family-oriented camping and recreation can be found at Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve, owned and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Winter’s grip has been broken, and spring has finally arrived. If your "wanderlust" is calling you to the great outdoors, then head south to the beautiful, bucolic region known as the Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve. Located off Highway 113, south of I-65 in Atmore, Magnolia Branch has over 6,000 acres of pristine timberland and 50 lakes that have been sustained, protected and enhanced by the efforts of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the only federally recognized Indian Tribe in the State of Alabama.

General Manager Billy Smith explained that when the land was originally purchased it had been an old gravel pit.

"We started with 200 acres that were under water because it had been mined for gravel," Smith stated. "The land wasn’t fit for much, so the Tribe developed it into a recreational area. Then we added more land, and every time we cut trees, we planted long-leaf pines. We have planted over a million long-leaf seedlings. We also have sections for native grasses and petal pollinators to attract bees and butterflies. We are getting back to our native plants such as yellow Indian grass, ironweed and ferns. This means the native animals such as the box turtle and gopher tortoise are also returning."

Campers can enjoy the white sands of the beach along Big Escambia Creek. Whether sunning, relaxing with a good book or watching the kids, visitors will delight in the sights and sounds along the Creek.  

In 2014, MBWR was divided into two separate entities to accommodate the growth. The camping area now has over 600 acres, surrounded by pristine timberland and a spectacular waterfront along Big Escambia Creek.

Big Escambia Creek is a clear, freshwater stream that runs along the property for 12 miles. The Creek’s gently rippling waters are kept clean by park employees and tested regularly by the EPA. It is an excellent place to swim, tube, canoe or kayak. The white, sandy beach area is a popular place to sun, relax and refresh. A trip on big yellow tubes usually lasts about three hours, depending on the number of stops the tuber wishes to make. For those wanting to canoe or kayak, Magnolia Branch offers rentals that can be launched from the park’s boat ramp. Floating down the clear stream is an excellent way to relax, unwind and enjoy the beauty of this serene area.

MBWR prides itself on being a family-friendly destination offering some of the best camping and outdoor recreation in Alabama. The campground offers both RV and tent campsites. There are 82 RV sites with water and electricity, 49 with full hook-up and 10 large pull-thru sites. Those who love traditional camping, with a few conveniences, will find 82 sites with both water and electricity. The traditionalist, who enjoys "roughing it," will find unlimited primitive campsites. Campsites are available at daily, weekly or monthly rates.

  The blob is one of the most popular attractions at the park, especially with teenagers. One person jumps from the tower, sending the person on the other end of the blob into the air and into the water.

Campers will also find other amenities such as a dump station, three bathhouses with hot showers and a laundry room. Onsite, four group pavilions equipped with tables can be rented for one-day or extended days.

Visitors can also bring their horses and house them in the 10 stables on the grounds. The backwoods riding trails offer water crossings and plenty of rugged, challenging terrain. Day trips are also available for horse lovers.

With over 50 lakes on the Reserve, it is a fisherman’s paradise. Currently, MBWR is working on a 50-acre lake that will expand all the lakes into one system. When finished, the lakes will be well stocked. Visitors will also be able to rent paddleboats and jon boats.

Both hikers and bikers will find hundreds of trails to explore. Some trails are more challenging than others, but they are marked and well kept.

A large array of wildlife can be found in this area. In fact, the park is a bird watcher’s delight, with thousands of birds calling this pristine area home. The park’s proximity to water, to adjoining farmlands and to protective cover makes this an attractive migration point for all kinds of feathered creatures.

The park has many other attractions to entertain visitors. The large playground offers hours of entertainment for the youngsters, while a large volleyball court and horseshoe pit are popular with teenagers. The zip line and blob are very popular attractions for all age groups.

Once families visit MBWR, they usually return. Jeff and Cheryl Luker, who live in Fulton, have enjoyed camping in the park many times.

"Our kids love it," Cheryl said. "We meet other family members here and spend the week. All of us enjoy the outdoors. We look forward to grilling or frying fish, and just visiting with other families. Of course, our kids like to swim or tube. It’s just a great place to bring a family."

The Lukers have also brought the youth from Bassett Creek Baptist Church on day-trips to the park.

"The teens love the blob and the zip line," Cheryl explained. "They tube and swim, and then come back to the pavilion for a picnic. It’s just an ideal trip for the group. Everything we could ask for is right here."

This family-oriented park allows no drugs or alcohol, and tribal police regularly patrol the park area. The park is pet-friendly for leashed, friendly, well-behaved pets.

Park Coordinator Tracey Sells said over 35,000 people come through the gates during the peak months.

"People start calling me for reservations on January 1," she explained. "We are always full during the summer. It’s hard to get reservations on holidays, if you don’t plan ahead."

During the winter months, the "Snowbirds" arrive from as far away as Canada and Australia. The park caters to both short-term and long-term residents. They offer two buses to take guests to the popular Wind Creek Casino and other nearby attractions.

MBWR has five full-time employees and 21 seasonal workers. They host both weddings and family reunions. They cater to church groups, Scout troops and father/son ventures. In addition, many companies hold events for their employees here because of the excellent accommodations available.

If the call to get outdoors is beckoning you, then head to Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve. Discover and explore the wonders of this rustic delight!

For more information, contact Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve by mail at 24 Big Creek Road; Atmore, AL 36502; or by phone at 251-446-3423 or fax at 251-368-0824. They can also be found online at Magnoliabranch.com.

Carolyn Drinkard is a freelance writer from Thomasville.