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Kara's Sights & Bites: Mississippi's state parks are some of the best in the U.S.

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    It’s officially spring, which means our electric bills will soon skyrocket as air conditioners began operating at full capacity. Scratch that…on a more positive note, it’s spring – time to get out and explore beautiful spring foliage found throughout Mississippi. Regrettably, many city-dwellers lack easy access to a place to wander along wooded paths filled with blooming dogwood trees, vibrant azaleas and more of spring's beautiful flowering plants and shrubs. Don't worry, though; Mississippi's state parks spread from one end of the state to the other offer the best of spring foliage and so much more.

    And here’s the best part: seven of Mississippi’s parks were named to Reserve America’s Top 100 Campgrounds in the U.S. Several landed on other “best of” national lists, including one in northeast Mississippi that was named among the nation's Top 25 or Top 50 birdwatching, fishing, kid-friendly and “amazing views” spots, among other accolades. I’m referring to J. P. Coleman State Park in Iuka. In case you haven’t guessed, it was named for our 52nd governor.

    In Mississippi, there is no shortage of places bearing the name of a former governor, historical figure or as is the case of many of our counties, Native American tribes or derivatives. Coleman, also a state legislator and U.S. judge, is perhaps most remembered for, in 1960 inviting presidential candidate John F. Kennedy to sleep in the Theodore Bilbo bed at the Governor’s Mansion.

     Ironically, the beautiful park, opened in the mid-1960's and named in Coleman's honor, overlooks the Tennessee River, not the one bearing the name of the state he led from 1956-1960.

    But enough about history. J.P. Coleman State Park has been recognized for its beautiful scenery, camping amenities and ample fishing and water recreation opportunities in Pickwick Lake, a breathtaking 47,500-acre freshwater lake. The sparkling waters of the lake are filled with bream, catfish and most species of bass, resulting in a prime fishing spot for outdoorsmen.

    However, ask anymore who’s visited the park and they’ll tell you its most amazing feature is a 50-foot waterfall, Cooper Falls. In simple terms it is an amazing sight to behold. A continuous stream of water rushes over a massive stone wall etched into the scenic landscape and flows into the lake below. The falls alone are deserving of a visit, but if time allows, plan to stay a little longer and enjoy the spacious park filled with natural beauty and plenty of activities for the entire family.

    For those desiring to stay overnight, the park offers primitive camping sites as well as more comfortable accommodations, including parking pads for RVs, 23 cabins and a 19-unit motel. Many campsites are near the water’s edge, while others are located high above the water on one of the rocky bluffs overlooking the lake.

     Other activities to enjoy include miniature golf, picnicking and swimming in the lake or the park's pool. Or, take a leisurely stroll through the abundant wooded areas filled with, this time of year, colorful native trees, beautiful flowering plants and several species of birds.

    Once you visit, it’s easy to understand why, collectively, Cooper Falls, Pickwick Lake and J.P. Coleman State Park draw thousands of annual visitors from not just Mississippi, but around the nation.

    As spring progresses, I’ll feature a few more of Mississippi’s best places to enjoy spring foliage. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the fleeting balmy days of spring while we can. As we all know, they’ll be gone before we know it.

If You Go:

J.P. Coleman State Park

Where: 613 CR 321, Iuka, MS

Admission: Free (separate charges for overnight accommodations)

Contact: 662-423-6515 for more information