Houston abounds with nature’s best in fishing, hunting, outdoor recreation, and sports activities. Whether a native or newcomer, Houston welcomes all and has something to offer everyone.
JOE BRIGANCE MEMORIAL PARK IN CHICKASAW COUNTY, MS
Scott St, Houston, MS 38851
This is an amazing park and the Fly Wheel Festival is held here. The spring Mississippi Valley Flywheel Festival in Houston will be held April 26-27. The Fall Flywheel Festival will be on September 27-28, 2013.
Each April and September hundreds of people from all over the country come to Houston to see antique steam and gasoline engines and tractors. In addition, there are art and craft exhibitors, flea market booths, food vendors and live music entertainment. The festivals are held at Joe Brigance Park in Houston.
The festival is operated by the Mississippi Valley Flywheelers Association. The spring festival is typically larger and has more activities than the fall festival.
For more information, please see: www.houstonms.org
TOMBIGBEE NATIONAL FOREST
Tombigbee National Forest is divided into three separate parts—the Houston, Coffeeville, and Ackerman units—all located in northern central Mississippi. With a total combined area of about 66,000 acres, it is settled in the rolling hills of the coastal plain and provides many of the pleasures also available in some of Mississippi’s five other national forests.
If you have time, the area attractions are not limited to the forest. Just to the northeast of the Houston unit is the city of Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley. Or, for those purposefully escaping the chaos of cities, take a turn through the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge abutting the Ackerman unit to its east. Whatever you do, this corner of Mississippi will definitely hold your attention.
Drive the Natchez Trace
The Natchez Trace Parkway is a 430-mile-long roadway that runs from just south of Nashville, Tennessee, to Natchez, Mississippi, following what was originally a local Indian trail across dense forest. It became a trade route shortly after the first frontiersman arrived. The 17-mile Natchez Trace scenic byway is a small piece of the parkway that runs through the northeastern Houston unit of the forest. Access to excellent outdoor resources along the byway, like the Davis Lake Recreation Area, make a weekend stay an enticing prospect.
Horseback Ride on the Witch Dance
The scenic 18-mile multi-loop Witch Dance Horse Trail located in the northeastern Houston unit of the forest is one of Mississippi’s most popular equestrian destinations. Open only to hikers and horseback riders, its fully equipped trailhead is just off the Natchez Trace Parkway. Riders of all levels will enjoy cantering along winding trails through pine and hardwood groves and alongside gurgling streams.
Tour Mysterious Indian Mounds
Not far from the Davis Lake Recreation Area are the Owl Creek Indian Mounds. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the site includes a complex of mounds believed to be 700 to 1,000 years old and to have been used for religious ceremonies by the native Americans who predated the local Chickasaws.
Hike the Choctaw Trail
For hikers, flower and tree lovers, birders, and wildlife watchers, the three-mile Choctaw Trail is an ideal path. Located inside the Choctaw Lake Recreation Area, it crosses through a variety of habitats and treats hikers to bottomland hardwood stands, groves of large pines, new-growth areas littered with young pine, and clusters of old hardwoods.
Camp for the Weekend
Car campers should steer straight for the 200-acre Davis Lake, the 100-acre Choctaw Lake, and the Tillatoba recreation areas where they’ll find great campsites, picnicking, swimming, boating, limited water skiing, fishing, hiking, and biking. The Tillatoba area is the smallest and most peaceful of the three.
Move on to U.S. National Forest Campground Guide
THE GREAT RIVER ROAD
Trace the Mighty Mississippi from Lake Itasca, Minnesota, south to the Gulf of Mexico
Old Man River, Father of Waters, “body of a nation,” Big Muddy: By any name, the mighty Mississippi River cuts a mythic figure across the American landscape. Who hasn’t read Mark Twain or listened to Showboat and not dreamt of a trip down the Mississippi? If you’re tired of waiting for somebody to buy you passage aboard the Delta Queen or to help you paddle among the 1,500-ton barges, then do what Huck Finn would have done if he’d had a driver’s license: Tag alongside the Mississippi on the Great River Road.
Created in 1938 from a network of federal, state, and local roads, the Great River Road—also known as the River Road, and commonly abbreviated to “GRR”—forms a single route along the Mississippi from head to toe. Designed to show off the ten states bordering the Mississippi from its headwaters to its mouth, the GRR is nothing if not scenic, and anyone who equates the Midwest with the flat Kansas prairie will be pleasantly surprised. Sure, farms line the road, but so do upland meadows, cypress swamps, thick forests, limestone cliffs, and dozens of parks and wildlife refuges.
Of course it isn’t all pretty. There’s enough industry along the Mississippi for you to navigate the river by the flashing marker lights on smokestacks, and a half-dozen major cities compete with their bigger cousins on the coasts for widest suburban sprawl and ugliest roadside clutter. A pandemic of tacky strip malls has infected the region, too, but apart from the astounding growth in casinos (you’ll never be more than 100 miles from a slot machine from one end of the Mississippi to the other) the GRR resists the developers’ bulldozers because its meanders are shunned by a century increasingly drawn to the straight, fast, and four-lane.
A full 50 percent longer than the comparable route along the interstates, the GRR changes direction often, crosses the river whenever it can, dallies in towns every other road has forgotten, and altogether offers a perfect analog to floating downstream. If the road itself isn’t your destination, don’t take it. For those who do travel it, the GRR spares you the fleets of hurtling 40-ton trucks and that interstate parade of franchised familiarity, and rewards you with twice the local color, flavor, and wildlife (two- and four-legged) found along any alternate route. Lest these tangibles be taken too much for granted, every so often the GRR will skip over to a freeway for a stretch to help you sort your preferences. Savor, and enjoy.
THE BLACK CREEK TRAIL
The Black Creek Trail (BCT) is not only the apex of hiking in the Magnolia State, it is also one of the finest hiking trails in the Southeastern United States. This path makes a 41-mile trek through rich, diverse woodlands of the De Soto National Forest that veil the corridor of the Black Creek watershed. Black Creek itself is so eye appealing as to be a federally designated wild and scenic river, the only one in the state of Mississippi. It is along this creek that much of the trail travels, offering views of the tea-colored waters that contrast with burning white sandbars, banked against verdant green forests so thick as to seem impenetrable. But somehow, the Black Creek Trail works its way up the river valley, not only along the clear waterway, but also over innumerable side creeks, spanned by boardwalks and footbridges. There is still water back here, too, where cypress and gum trees emerge from the dark swamps, adding to the junglesque character of the Black Creek watershed. It’s not all water and deep woods in the Gulf Coast Plain of Mississippi—there are also open pine forests that reach for the sky in the hill country that abuts the Black Creek floodplain. These forests offer a contrast to the rich woodlands along the creek.
Overnight camping opportunities are nearly limitless. Water and flat spots are frequent. Many backpackers like to camp on the sandbars for scenery, breezes, and escape from the mosquitoes, which can be troublesome in late spring, early summer, and after thunderstorms. However, the shoulder seasons are ideal for trail travel, namely the months of March, April, October, and November, and winter is a viable option. In summer, hot days, warm nights, and annoying insects keep away most sane backpackers. The BCT is moderately used and backpackers seeking solitude will have it any time of year during the week. Weekends won’t be bad, and the numerous camping possibilities assure solitude for those willing to find it.
Another upside is a local shuttle service for one-way hikers. Black Creek Canoe Rental not only rents canoes and offers shuttle services for Black Creek paddlers, they also serve hikers and backpackers who want to hike a portion of the trail or tackle it from end to end. I have used their service and highly recommend them.
No instantly accessible resupply points exist along the Black Creek Trail. However, backpackers can easily carry enough food and gear for the 41-mile trip, whether they do it in 3, 4, 5, or 6 nights. Be apprised that at one point, the path does venture about a mile from the hamlet of Brooklyn, where there are a couple of small stores, selling snacks and such. Black Creek Canoe Rental, also in Brooklyn, has some camp supplies. The only real downside for hikers is Camp Shelby, a nearby military installation that occasionally explodes bombs, breaking the area’s solitude. Overall, the Black Creek experience is not one to be missed. For a two-pronged adventure, consider doing what I have done in the past, canoeing a few days down Black Creek, travelling the 31 miles from Big Creek Landing to Fairley Bridge Landing, then backpacking up the Black Creek Trail, 41 miles from Fairley Bridge Landing back to Big Creek Landing.
GULF ISLANDS NATIONAL SEASHORE
This section of gulf shore seems rife with good paddling potential but hasn’t been developed to invite self-powered boaters. It has a mix of habitats—barrier island, swamp and bayou, coastal river, and mixed forest—with the attendant wildlife indigenous to the gulf coast.
There are several boat launch locations, but camping is limited and most of the boating is of the motorized variety. Johnson Beach, on Perdido Key, is a good launch spot with five miles of beach that is accessible only on foot or by boat.
In the Mississippi District, the Davis Bayou is the best bet for paddling day trips, with access to extensive bayou country but without any waterside camps. The islands off the Mississippi coast are serviced only by passenger ferry, but they do offer primitive backcountry camping.
DELTA NATIONAL FOREST
Delta National Forest enjoys the distinction of being the only bottomland hardwood forest in the national system. It is located in the Mississippi floodplain just north of Vicksburg.
This area—a wide wetland habitat fed by the overflowing Mississippi River—has been called the cradle of North American cultural development due to the role its abundant natural resources played in supporting an extensive prehistoric Indian population. At one time, it was a vast and unbroken reach of hardwood forest choking with plant, animal, and fish life. It was also subject to regular floods that have continued, although modern levee systems now largely keep them in check.
Due to changes in the surrounding lands and the subsequent desire to protect this unique example of a deltaic floodplain ecosystem, Delta National Forest is heavily managed. The North American Waterfowl Management Plan is helping to restore and control waterfowl populations; the Green Ash, Sweetgum, and Overcup Research Natural Areas shelter groves of large old trees from timbering, and wildlife management areas help keep a tab on the forest’s plentiful native species. One thing is certain: This is a forest that still feels like a forest.
Scan the Waterfowl Flyway
Delta National Forest lies entirely within the Mississippi Waterfowl Flyway and is a fantastic perch for spying on migratory birds, but especially ducks and other water lovers. Delta’s flooded bottomland hardwoods are perfect duck habitat, and populations of waterfowl are on the rise due to the North American Waterfowl Management Plan and other factors, so your chances are better than ever for spotting birds.
Spy on Wetland Wildlife
The lands of the Delta are a complex blend of perpetually flooded forest, seasonal wetlands, and dry forest. Taking advantage of these diverse habitats are white-tailed deer, turkeys, otters, bobcats, alligators, and cottonmouth snakes. For the best wildlife viewing, take to the trails or pause by the sides of park roads. If you have a canoe, float down sections of the Big Sunflower and Little Sunflower Rivers or any of a number of bayous and cutoffs. Bring your binoculars, sit back, and enjoy the show.
Tackle Backcountry Trails
There are over 50 miles of trails open to backcountry fans. Twenty of these are designated for use by ATVs and lead to hunting areas. These trails are also open to horses and mountain bikes. Try the Dowling Bayou Trail for an easy trip along the edge of the Dowling Bayou Greentree Reservoir, or the Mud Lake Trail for a dip into sometimes-flooded wetlands. In many cases, hikers will have to share the trail for a while, but most reservoirs have sections for foot traffic only, like the Sunflower Greentree Reservoir.
Duck Hunt in a Flooded Forest
Greentree Reservoirs are the bottomland hardwoods where Mississippi’s nuttall and overcup oaks thrive and provide cover for migrating, wintering, and resident waterfowl, including mallards and wood ducks. Five reservoirs in all cover more than 6,400 acres, all maintained by large pumps pulling from the Big and Little Sunflower Rivers. Translation: This is prime duck-hunting country. Game hunters can also await squirrel, deer, rabbit, turkey, feral hog, and coyote in season.
Fish a Slough
White perch is the forest catch. Blue, Barge, Lost, and Fish Lakes, and a whole host of sloughs (control water areas) have excellent fishing. Most of these lakes can be accessed by canoe or small boat, and the larger rivers have boat ramps.
HOLLY SPRINGS NATIONAL FOREST
Holly Springs National Forest is a 147,000-acre mix of public and private land. Located in northern central Mississippi, it is only an hour’s drive south of Memphis, Tennessee, and attracts many of its citizens escaping for the weekend. The park’s 50 or so lakes (dug by the Soil Conservation Service) were originally intended for flood prevention and erosion control, but are today also used for warm-water fishing, boating, swimming, and more.
As with Mississippi’s other six forests, the lands of Holly Springs National Forest were once used by the native populations. As the first European settlers arrived, they cleared the land of its old growth forests to make room for farming. By the 1930s, when the Forest Service took responsibility for managing and rehabilitating the land, the earth had been badly scarred. These same grounds are now well covered by pines, oaks, and dogwood trees. Wildflowers, when in season, provide vivid flashes of color. Stocked game abounds and mingles with the migratory waterfowl.
Hike a “Supreme” Trail
Departing from near the picnic pavilion in the day-use area of the Chewalla Lake Recreation Area, the Chewalla Lake Hiking Trail runs for three miles into the hills southwest of the lake. The word chewalla comes from the Choctaw Indian name chihowa-la , which means “the Supreme Being.” A hike in these surroundings will help you understand why. This trail is for foot traffic only.
Catch Some Cats
Holly Springs National Forest has approximately 50 small lakes. With an average surface area of about 30 acres each, they provide for superb warm-water fishing. Largemouth bass, sunfish, and catfish are local anglers’ delights. There are concrete boat ramps on Wagner, Bluff, Curtis, Cox, Cypress, Mount Olive, Brent’s, Chestnut, Curry, Wood Duck, Mill, Walker, and Organ Lakes.
Observe Winged Commuters
Once intended as an interpretive center, Bagley Bottoms Environmental Interpretive Area hasn’t quite grown to the stature of its name. However, a short hike off the main road will drop you into this open-to-the-public protected zone where you can enjoy up-close opportunities to observe migratory waterfowl.
Get Good and Muddy
Much of the forest is open to mountain bike and ATV use. A variety of trail markers and road closure devices govern access. Please contact the forest for its detailed policy.
Camp by a Lake
Chewalla Lake was originally intended for flood retention. Plans were eventually expanded to create the Chewalla Lake Recreation Area. Daytime and overnight facilities are available, including a 42-site campground, lake access for swimming and bass fishing, picnic grounds, and more. Tillatoba Lake and Puskus Lake also have associated recreation areas, although they are both more primitive and remote. Backcountry camping is allowed throughout the forest.
HOMOCHITTO NATIONAL FOREST
1200 Highway 184 E, Meadville, MS 39653 Phone : (601) 384-5876
From the sound of it, Homochitto National Forest would seem to be the last place you’d expect to find first-rate outdoor recreation. The forest records the highest level of timber production in the South. In addition, it’s constantly being explored for oil and gas. More than 75 percent of the Mississippi oil wells on national forest land are in Homochitto.
Despite this intensive resource use, the forest is jumping with opportunities for outdoor fun.
Homochitto National Forest is the first of Mississippi’s six national forests. Established in 1936, it was named after the Homochitto River. Homochitto, meaning “big red,” is the local Indian name for the river. The approximately 189,000-acre area is divided into two ranger districts—the Bude and the Homochitto—in the southwestern corner of the state, near Natchez.