Little River State Forest still making memories

Published 6:20 am Wednesday, June 10, 2009

By By Lowell McGill
It was a most unusual evening back in the 1950s when I and a few of my friends went up to Little River State Park.
Unlike the many times when we visited that unique recreational site, we stumbled upon a group from Pensacola celebrating “Twins Night,” a party consisting of 8-10 sets of twins.
Everyone at the park came over to take part in the celebration. The theme music came from a Doublemint Gum radio jingle. You remember.. “double your pleasures…double your fun… with Doublemint, Doublemint, Doublemint Gum …”
If I remember, those twins’ ages ranged from about 12 to 30. This group celebrated their affair at different locations each year, but they liked the park so well they scheduled the next year’s meeting there.
It was a very enlightening occasion that we enjoyed with the twins, their parents and friends. We were also invited to join in their celebrations and eat delicious hotdogs and watermelons.
This was just one of many times we enjoyed fun-filled days at that south Monroe County park.
Inspiration for this week’s column came from a phone call from Terry Jones who recalled how he relished many good times there with family and friends.
Not only was this a good place to swim, but you could drive your car down on the spillway and give it a good washing. During that era, you could drive your car over to the backside of the lake where a boathouse was situated. If you did not want to drive, you could swim all the way across the lake. But, you had to swim in pairs because that swim was as stressful as a Web site without advertising. The girls especially liked the summers when Auburn forestry students came for their outdoor class labs. The college housed their students in cabins located on Hwy. 21 at the park entrance.
Fishing was popular on the lake as it is today. Boats were available for rent and excellent fishing spots were thrown in to make sure you had a good day angling. There were also paddle boats for those wanting to meander on the lake.
Furnished cabins, nestled in the pine and bay thickets on the backside of the park, still make for cozy nights. The cabins are always filled with visitors from spring until late fall. Chirping of crickets, howling of owls and sometimes the baying of coyotes offer even more nostalgic pleasures.
Families delighted in weekend reunions and gatherings then as they do now. Food was spread on spacious tables under the covered pavilions. The aroma of food cooking on grills near the pavilions could be smelled all over the park. Those having picnics had to dispatch advance parties to reserve tables.
The sandy “beach area” gave somewhat a semblance to the Gulf beaches to our south. Many were seen diving from the pier and staying under the water for long periods of time. Some accomplished divers could perform various diving acrobatics.
Listening and dancing to the big band sounds and popular songs on the “Juke Box” in the “dressing’ building was the most memorable part of it all. Favorite songs popular back then were “How High The Moon” by Les Paul and Mary Ford, “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” by Debbie Reynolds and Carlton Carpenter, “Blue Tango” by Leroy Anderson and “Why Don’t You Believe Me” by Joni James. I remember two songs that were very popular during those days, “Music, Music, Music” by Teresa Brewer and “The Tennessee Waltz” by Patti Page. The latter song was written by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King back in 1947. Little did I know then that my FEMA related work would one day take me to Stewart’s birthplace near Ashland, Tenn.
Those were great days back then in the 1950s and 1960s. Taking your date to Little River State Park was the” real thing”. And, of course, you sometimes made a quick stop at State Farm and plucked one of those juicy, succulent peaches off one of the trees in that orchard, taking a chance you would not be caught.
Now called Little River State Forest, the park has also previously been named Claude D. Kelley State Park. It was named in honor of Kelly, an Atmore native who was known as an avid conservationist.
The park, which consists of 960 acres, dates back to Civilian Conservation days. The lake covers 25 acres. Recognized nationally, the park attracts vacationers and campers from all across the USA.
In an effort to continue making the park a destination for visitors and campers from afar and bike trails are now being added.
The park is not the same since the hurricane tore through it a few years ago. But, it is showing signs of returning to the way it was back then. They say it takes 10-15 years for a tree to develop good size. Maybe it will be only a few more years until Mother Nature restores its picturesque beauty
Next week, I will have more news from the year 1973.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at

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