story and photos by Diane Thornton
The walls are closing in, the weather is wacky and your phone won’t stop pinging with alerts, reminders and texts. Welcome to Spring Fever whose symptoms include the need to get away, flee your house, and reconnect with the universe — just not necessarily with the humans inhabiting it.
There is hard science behind those seasonal stirrings, whether it’s the elation of increased sunlight and blooming plants raising your mood or the increased sunlight and blooming plants confusing your winter slumbering, allergy-sensitive body, and it turns out the first remedy for both afflictions is to GET ACTIVE. Get out, get out of your cave, your office, your Macbook Air. Camping, glamping and cabins are calling you to venture to Meeman-Shelby Forest, the hidden gem right down the street.
If “camping” brings memories of dirt and bugs and you’re not into that kind of fun, rest assured the newly remodeled two bedroom, one bath cabins are clean, fresh and have a nice private view of Poplar Tree lake. Fancy a cocktail or two on the deck with the local raccoons, hawks and owls as company. Step out your back door and onto the deck where pub table and chairs await or stroll off your new deck and over to the wooded point, where you can watch the sun set over the dam then come back to your spic and span kitchen with brand new appliances where you can make your foodie dream come alive or reheat whatever you snagged off the hot bar at Krogers. These kitchens come with all new appliances, coffee pot, blender (margaritas anyone?), dishes, utensils, cups and baking pans. The bathrooms sport low entry showers and fluffy white towels, and the new queen size mattresses have crisp clean white sheets and pillows. At around one hundred dollars a night, this is a reboot everyone needs. Remember, you are unplugged and even though you have central heat and air, flushing toilets and steamy hot showers, you have no TV or cell service. You are here to reconnect with yourself, not work or social media. We recommend bringing a throw for the vinyl recovered, but not re-stuffed couch and a mosquito repellant system like Thermacell for the deck. Some cabins are pet-friendly and fully accessible. These gems go quickly so reserve well in advance, but do not hesitate to call the friendly office staff to inquire about last minute cancellations.
Feeling bolder than those wimpy cabin-stayers? Bring your motorhome, trailer or instant-tent to the campground and set up shop. Sites have water, electricity, hooks for lanterns, space for screen rooms over the generously-sized concrete picnic tables, a standing grill, and fire ring for your camping and glamping pleasure. Firewood is available for purchase at the visitor center. Some sites are situated so that you and others can group camp, sharing cooking areas and some common space while other sites are more secluded. We recommend driving the loops and seeing which sites interest you then carefully screening to see how close other sites/paths are before reserving your site. Make notes about pros and cons of sites in case a space you want is already reserved. Some sites are more removed from the road and lend themselves to solitude. We prefer these sites and indulge ourselves now with a huge glamping tent, popup over the dining area and various lights and decor. One campsite is the entry to the hiking trail. I wouldn’t want people traipsing through my site, but if that’s your gig, there’s a site for you.
The bathhouse is not as renovated as the cabins, but it is tidy and well stocked during our stays. Depending on your needs, distance from the bathroom is something to consider in choosing a camping site. There is a small screened room in the middle of the camping loop that has two bathrooms in addition to the one main bath house.
For the truly intrepid there is also backcountry camping which is accessible via the campground loop. Leave your car, load up your gear and hike in to these very secluded, but cleared sites, each with a dedicated fire ring. Some have room for several tents, so grab your backpacking buddies and get a blaze going, hoop and holler, dance and drum. These sites are primitive, no electricity, no water, no plumbing. Pack it in, pack it out. We suggest walking the sites without gear before deciding which one to reserve. The one downside to primitive camping is that the sites are along the main path so anyone going into or out of primitive camping will walk right by your site. You might want to keep your pants on.
Once you’ve selected your accommodations, you can decide whether to venture out for a nature talk with a ranger, go fishing, kayaking, hiking, or play a round of disc golf, but unless you’re keen to walk miles and miles, you will need to drive to each location. The campground is not anywhere near the nature center or fishing/kayak lake, and the disc golf is near nothing but has plenty of parking, covered picnic areas and clean bathrooms.
Hiking trails abound (and trail markers updated with additional ones placed) and can be mixed and matched. One loop, the Woodland Trail, is accessible from a steep half-mile trail from the campground. It can be pieced together for 1-, 2- or 3-mile hikes with a great deal of elevation gains and losses. Pack water, hike with a friend, keep your dog(s) on leashes and stroll the trails. If you’re from Memphis, be prepared to see people you know on the trail (my wife and I did recently), but also be aware that they may be there to unplug and not want to engage.
Let spring propel you to the open arms of the forest’s branches. Renew your spirit. Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park awaits!