By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TISHOMINGO – Mississippi might not immediately jump to mind when you visit Tishomingo State Park.
“People come up to me and say, ‘How did these rocks get here?’” said Bill Brekeen, park manager. “I tell them, ‘You’re in the foothills of the Appalachians.’”
Tons of highland church sandstone poke out of the ground. The highest elevation is only about 663 feet, but the park offers a suggestion of mountainous terrain for a mostly flat state.
“We had a couple from North Carolina come, and they said it was just like home, except on a very small scale,” Brekeen said.
During the Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps set up camp and converted 1530 acres of rocks, trees and streams into a picturesque getaway that’s served residents and tourists since 1939.
The park is located 45 miles north of Tupelo off the Natchez Trace Parkway, and it draws about 110,000 visitors a year. Summer is the busiest time, but the cabins are consistently booked.
“The park changes so much for the seasons,” Brekeen said. “Fall is gorgeous. Spring flowers pop up all over. In the winter, the leaves are down, so you can really see the rock outcroppings. In the summer, the park comes alive with people and kids everywhere.”
University teams have dated man-made objects found in the park to about 7,000 B.C. In more recent though still long-ago times, there are stories of Chief Tishomingo, the park’s namesake, visiting the area to hunt and fish.
Brekeen said Chickasaws occasionally make pilgrimages to the park, and ask to see a waterfall that’s off one of the hiking trails.
“I mean, 80- and 85-year-old Chickasaw elders come out and they handle the terrain better than you or I do,” he said. “It’s so neat to watch them. They’ll stand and say, ‘I can feel my ancestors.’”
Brekeen can direct you to a place where Native Americans used to grind their corn, and he can show you the concrete remnants from the CCC camp that made the park possible.
CCC workers also make trips to the park, though there are fewer and fewer of them each year. During the hard times of the 1930s, the men were paid $30 dollars a month, and $25 of that was sent home to their families.
“They were happy to be able to help their families,” Brekeen said, “and you can see they took so much pride in their work.”
They used rock and lumber to build the lodge, cabins, office buildings and outbuildings that are in operation today. With dynamite and persistence, they cut steps into the sandstone throughout the park. They also built the swinging bridge that still spans Bear Creek.
“One of them told me it cost $160 to make the bridge,” Brekeen said. “Are you kidding me? You couldn’t do that for $1 million today.”
The workers took excess cable from construction around Pickwick, and cut the lumber using a sawmill at the CCC camp. The wood and most of the cable have been replaced, but the bridge continues to swing.
“We usually have a snow each year,” Brekeen said. “I like to beat everybody to the bridge and get pictures before people get their feet all over it.”
Suitable for framing
Photographers like the bridge, as well as the 1840s pioneer cabin. If visitor accounts are to be believed, the cabin must’ve been a busy place before it was donated to the park.
“Everybody and their brother says, ‘I lived in that once,’” Brekeen said.
Just above the cabin is CCC Pond, Frog Pond or Lilly Pond, depending on whom you ask. It’s fed by springs, and on most days you can see crappie, bream and bass swimming beneath the surface.
It’s approaching prime time for the pond, when the trees shed their leaves and become gold, orange and brown rafts on top of the water. It’s a sight made for framing.
Cameras also tend to come out for the 500-pound concrete bear at the entrance to the park. Gerald McKibben of Starkville made the bear and donated it to the park. It’s a favorite with kids who climb all over it.
“It’s funny when dogs see it because they growl,” Brekeen said. “I guess they think it’s real.”
Take your pick
The park hosts individual campers and day visitors, as well as church groups, band camps, family reunions, football teams and more.
“One church group has been coming for 40-something years. It’s a tradition,” Brekeen said. “They put on a youth camp.”
Boy Scouts are regular visitors. Their work doesn’t compare to that left behind by the CCC, but Eagle Scout projects make the place better for everyone else. This summer, a scout led a team that built a beach volleyball court on the site of the original pool.
The new pool is closed for the season, but Bear Creek canoe rides will continue until the end of October. Three disc golf courses are open all year, and the park gives out 1,500 to 2,000 permits a year for rock climbing.
In addition, there are 13 miles of trails winding through land that’s attracted visitors for thousands of years.
You have a standing invitation to see this unique piece of Mississippi for yourself.
“There’s something special about this place. That’s for sure,” Brekeen said. “I know I fell in love with it. I’m going to retire and hang up my boots here.”