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October 2006 Park Picks

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Martin Creek Lake State Park

Escape to an island in East Texas.

By Erica H. Brasseux

Less some tiki cabanas and breeze-blown hammocks, a hike to the island at Martin Creek Lake State Park affords many of the elements of a true tropical getaway. At least it does this afternoon.

It’s a little after lunchtime, and the park is already hopping. A quiet stream of mariachi music drifts to the parking lot from a radio at a nearby campsite, creating rhythmic unison as park-goers unload their boats, sort through fishing gear, helmet-up for a bike ride, and otherwise prepare for their various recreational pursuits. Warmed in the winter by a nearby power plant, the 5,000-acre lake is known for its year-round fishing opportunities for crappie, largemouth bass and catfish. The park caters to anglers with its four-lane boat ramp, lighted fishing pier and four staff members certified as Junior Angler instructors.

Not prepared with poles or bait, we glance around, take inventory of our options, and though the sandy beach swimming area looks inviting in the warming afternoon sun, my husband Eric and I load the baby, a sippy cup, snacks and various other toddler-friendly essentials into the stroller and head out for a hike instead.

There are more than six miles of hiking and mountain-bike trails to explore, but the island, accessible from the mainland by a charming, 170-feet-long wooden bridge, beckons us. As the stroller wheels rattle over the bridge’s last stretch of wooden planks, a dense sanctuary of hardwoods and East Texas pines envelop us. Half expecting to see a “Do Not Talk” sign posted somewhere nearby, the few people we initially encounter along the trails and shoreline provide only a smile or a friendly nod, seemingly out of respect for the island’s almost eerie solitude. The canopy of whispering treetops that sway and rustle overhead quiets even our usually talkative 1-year-old, as subtle rays of light filter through the trees, creating a mosaic of dancing lights along the path. Splashing and laughing from the swimming area, boat motors cranking, and even the familiar mariachi melodies dissolve further and further into the background as we push on.

We continue to meander through the island’s 25 acres of lush foliage, and by lush foliage, that also means a healthy dose of poison ivy bordering the trails — a should-be-noted feature for campers or hikers with small children. On the front part of the island, cleared areas with picnic tables and fire rings are fairly abundant and offer respite along the trails, allowing us a chance to enjoy a snack and let Jackson stretch his legs and toddle about. Refueled and ready to explore, we take the stroller on a little off-road adventure across a grassy, treeless plain that separates the front and back part of the island, leading up to another densely wooded area.

For more than an hour we do not encounter another soul as we wander the farthest perimeters of the island, our only other company an array of songbirds, a distant woodpecker, and various other wildlife unseen. No more poison ivy, no more trails or fire pits. Between foraging and eating wild dewberries, scouting out the perfect primitive, waterfront campsite for our return visit, and even getting turned around a time or two, we truly feel like we are on a deserted island.

We bridge back to reality as we return to the mainland. While there are no tropical coladas waiting for us when we return or hammocks tied to coconut trees, we shed our socks and shoes and Jackson’s dewberry-stained clothes on the sandy beach and refresh ourselves with a wade in the lake. For East Texas, this truly is an island paradise.

Martin Creek Lake State Park is located 4 miles southwest of Tatum on Texas 43 and offers the full range of camping opportunities from cabins and air-conditioned and heated cottages to hike-in primitive campsites. For more information, visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/martincreek> or call (903) 836-4336.

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