Outdoors: Folks discovering 'hidden wilderness'

By Brian Albert Bloom/The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON — The campground is busy with activity. Some campers are cooking, and some are fishing. A group of young boys plays by the water, and other campers are busy just relaxing by a fire.

A breeze makes the water shimmer in the late afternoon sun, and leaves are in fall color.

It’s a place where the cares, worries and sounds of everyday life are far away, or so they seem.

In reality, this idyllic scene is in the middle of Jackson and only a few short minutes from downtown. This hidden wilderness is at Mayes Lake in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.

Will Murray and Andy Segrest, both of Jackson, had a guys’ camping trip with their combined five young sons a couple of weeks ago.

“I grew up here and didn’t know about it,” Segrest said. “It’s in the middle of Jackson and nobody realizes it.”

Located off Lakeland Drive across from Smith-Wills Stadium, the campground and lake go seemingly unnoticed by the thousands of motorists who pass by each day.

Murray was one of them, until recently.

“About two months ago I decided I was going to drive back there and see what’s there,” Murray said. “I was amazed at how nice it is and it is so close to home.”

Segrest and Murray said they can leave their homes and be at the park gates in two minutes.

The pair had previously camped at Roosevelt State Park in Morton with friends and church groups, but noted it is farther away.

The proximity has a special appeal for these two dads.

“With the kids being so young, if something happens, we’re minutes from the house,” Murray said.

With their dome tents pitched behind him, Segrest said the season and location are perfect.

“When we woke up … I was really struck by how beautiful it is this time of year and we’re right here on the water,” Segrest said.

The cost of pitching a tent for quick getaway is budget friendly.

“We cooked chicken and wild rice over the fire last night for about $10 and had chicken left over for chicken and biscuits,” said Murray, pointing to his Dutch oven sitting next to a campfire.

That, coupled with the $18 nightly fee, make a weekend trip affordable.

At another campsite, Nikki Johnson of Laurel spent the weekend with her husband and another couple.

“You don’t feel like you’re in the middle of Jackson,” said Johnson. “Being out here, I became unstressed almost immediately.”

Her husband, Tony Johnson, couldn’t believe such opposite worlds could exist so close together.

“They sent me for ice and it’s four-lane traffic and really busy less than a mile from here,” he said. “You come back here and it’s a different world. Everybody’s laid back and you don’t even hear the traffic.”

Fellow camper Rena Register, also of Laurel, said they picked LeFleur’s Bluff State Park because it had a nine-hole golf course, but when they saw how beautiful the camp area and lake were, no one wanted to leave.

Pointing to her inflatable bed by the water, Nikki Johnson laughingly said, “See my air mattress? That’s where I have been laying for a day and a half.”

While Register and Nikki Johnson had spent weekends in a tent in their college days, this was new for Tony Johnson who said he had only camped in RV’s and pop-up campers.

Talking about his first tent experience, Tony Johnson said, “It’s a lot less expensive, there is less to do and it is more relaxing.”

While tent camping is typically inexpensive, Register said it can be done for next to nothing.

By keeping her eyes open at a discount store, she was able to pick up almost everything they needed for less than $100, including sleeping bags, air mattresses, camp stove, a large name-brand tent and other items.

Register said it can be done even more cheaply.

“You have almost all of this stuff at your house already,” she said.

Nikki Johnson added, “What you don’t have, someone you know has it and you can borrow it.”

Mike Stepp, park manager, said first-time campers at LeFleur’s always have the same reaction.

“They’re amazed this park is in the middle of Jackson because they feel like they are in the middle of nowhere.”

The park has 28 developed campsites with water and electricity, nearby bathroom facilities and almost unlimited primitive camping opportunity.

But that’s not all, according to Stepp. Other features include fishing, a boat launch at Mayes Lake and another on the Pearl River, 1 1/2 miles of nature trails, bird watching, a nine-hole golf course, an 18-hole disc golf course, The Museum of Natural Science and much more.

September to April marks the most popular time of year for camping at LeFleur’s. During those months, reservations are recommended, but walk-ins are welcome.

Reserving a spot in advance may be the way to go as more people discover this “middle of nowhere” spot and like what they see.

Segrest and crew are a perfect example.

“Now that we’ve found this place, it’s going to be a tradition,” he said.

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com