272 County Rd. 995
Tupelo, MS 38804
November 15, 2014: The Closed sign is taken down!
NOW OPEN AGAIN!
When I was exploring around Tupelo during my Natchez Trace Parkway tour, after visiting Elvis’ birthplace and museum, I wanted to check out the nearby campground I’d heard about. Until then, I didn’t know it had been closed since April 28, 2014 when an EF-3 tornado roared through and severely damaged the lake grounds and buildings.
When I arrived on November 14, I saw this typical scene showing how the old white oak forest was destroyed. Some trees were over 100 years old but didn’t stand a chance on this day. Replanting is planned, but it’s still so sad that we’ll never see the kind of shade those old guys provided again in our lifetime.
I met with Ken Stanford, the Lake Manager, who was here on the day it hit. He told me that he, his wife and 3 dogs hunkered down in the bathtub when they heard it coming, but he said at the time he thought “it was all over for us.” When it had passed, they discovered 80% of the roof was caved in, a tree had come through a bedroom window and the back porch was completely torn off, along with the carport caved in, destroying a boat that was there. This is the house today after repairs have been made. Ken said he was amazed that they really did believe they weren’t going to make it through this one, but that they were more peaceful about it than they would have thought they would have been. When they emerged from the tub, he said their first thought was, “Hey, we’re here – thank you, Lord!” I really enjoyed my visit with Ken – he’s been here 10 years and you can tell he loves this place like the home it is to him.
Josh Howell, the North Region Lake Supervisor, kindly took me on a tour and told me that he was not at the park at the time, but that he had his hands full at home since the tornado also touched down in other areas of Tupelo. I thought this little bridge looked rather lost and forlorn amid all the tree rubble.
The scope of the damage was phenomenal – Josh said it was 1/2 mile wide and passed through in about 3 minutes.
The damage was so extensive that the park was declared a disaster area and is getting funding from FEMA for repairs and to replace equipment, such as these brand new picnic tables and grills. A new bathhouse is in the works to open in July, 2015.
Both Josh and I commented on how strange the brand new tables looked next to the devastated grounds – and look how that big tree was just snapped!
What I found the most unbelievable, though, was what happened at the campground area itself. There are 16 sites here within a loop and 12 of them were occupied that day. This is what Site 12 looks like today.
When I posted on Facebook about touring the campground post-tornado, my friend Helen sent me this photo she took in the 90’s when they toured the campground (Site 11). They didn’t stay here then because they needed 50 amps and at that time all the sites offered only 30 amps. But this shows how wooded the campground perimeter was then.
This is Site 5 today – and this is the only site where any RV was damaged – the one here was completely destroyed. Josh said they had to talk the guy into leaving his RV and evacuating to the bathhouse. Once he did, within a couple of minutes, his RV was a goner.
All the campers gathered here and everyone escaped without a scratch. The weird thing was, though, that it seems like the tornado skirted around the campground itself and within that loop was the least damage in the entire park. From everything else I saw, I can’t help but believe that if the full brunt passed by here, too, that building would not have stood it.
Site 9 is next to a walking path and it still looks pretty peaceful today. It still amazes me how powerful a tornado is, but how it can skip over spots within its path of destruction. Needed repairs to the electrical and water systems have been made prior to the campground opening again.
I got some “before tornado” pictures from CampingRoadTrip.com. Such an idyllic looking scene of piers and docks.
I’m pretty sure this is the same vantage point – with man-made structures rebuilt, but trees thinned such that our generation will never see the same top view again.
Here’s the view of the fishing pier when CampingRoadTrip.com took their photo (not sure when that was).
I think this is the same view today – the pier brand new, but the landscape still cruelly scarred.
But life goes on along with the rebuilding and replanting projects. The lake remains serene and inviting and the day it was opening, there was a planned fishing tournament taking place – even though the weather was unseasonably cold with temps in the 20’s in the early morning! You just can’t stop a guy who wants to go fishing! The lake is stocked with largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, redear and channel catfish.
It may take a while for the park to recapture the peace and serenity found here in another of my friend Helen’s pictures, but the people I met working here really love this park and take their care-taking roles seriously, so I have faith it will get there again for future generations to enjoy.
Malia’s 2 Cents: I think for exploring Tupelo area, this looks like a great deal in a campground. It’s just 2 miles east of downtown Tupelo and about the same distance off the Natchez Trace. If I come through here again, I’ll check it out and report back on the progress. I’d love to hear your 2 cents in comments below, or if you have any pictures or memories of camping here to share, please do!
Rates: (As of Nov. 2014): RV sites: $18 ($13 for age 65 or disabled)
Sites: 16 total sites – 7 with 50 amp electric service; the rest 30 amp. 1 pull-through; the rest back-in. No sewer hookups at sites; one dump station.
Park size: 850 acres, 330 acre lake. It is one of 18 state fishing lakes overseen by The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and is open year round.
July 16, 2014 WTVA News report tells of visitors from Australia visiting Elvis’ birthplace and hoping to enjoy a picnic in the park saw the sign upon their arrival, “Lake closed for repairs.” They wondered what kind of damage can you do to a lake. Well, this hissy fit of Mother Nature did plenty.
Quote from Biologist for Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks, Tyler Stubbs, “When the lake does reopen, it will have all new facilities, new picnic tables and with most of the trees gone, “there will be a lot less shade.” Perhaps an understatement?
CampingRoadTrip.com – Review and has some pictures taken before the tornado (some used here).