Find Higher Ground at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park
Picnicking, camping, hiking and fishing are popular pastimes at Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park. But unless you’ve found your way through the park to the Tennessee River Folklife Interpretive Center on Pilot Knob, you may have missed one of its highlights, literally the highest point in West Tennessee.
Inside the center you’ll see displays that explain that Pilot Knob was a well-known landmark for river travel on the Tennessee River during the early 1800s. You’ll also learn how the park’s namesake, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, led his cavalry troops to defeat a Union naval force at Johnsonville (see my Johnsonville State Historic Park blog for more details) just across the river.
Most of the exhibits in the Folklife Center incorporate segments of oral histories taken from people who lived along the river and engaged in logging, commercial fishing and the button industry that emerged after the Civil War with “toe diggers,” brail boats and “Arkansas hard hats” evolving along with the mussel trade.
Outside the Folklife Center there’s a spectacular view of Kentucky Lake and the trailhead for four hiking trails that meander more than 20 miles through the park’s 2,587 acres. The long-distance backpacking trail has two back country shelters and primitive camp sites available.
Pilot Knob glows inside and out on November 24th following the traditional Lighting of the Knob festivities at 6 p.m. The shindig includes music, food, people dressed in period costumes and an appearance by the jolly St. Nick himself. The lights stay on through New Year’s Day.
The park, located about eight miles northeast of Camden on the western shore of the Tennessee River, is now part of TVA’s run-of-the-river Kentucky Lake. Stop by the park office as you enter for maps, information and a look at their collection of Native American and Civil War artifacts.
Soon after enter the park you’ll pass Eva Beach east of Camden on Tenn. 191. This day use area has waterfront picnic spots, a small sandy beach and one of three boat launching ramps that provide access to some truly fine fishing.
The last time I wet my line here, my fishing buddy Doug Markham and I met guide Bob Latendresse (731-220-0582) and began fishing in Eva Harbor. On our first afternoon we landed and released about 80 bluegills using Bob’s technique: 1/32 or 1/16-ounce jig with a plastic grub. He places a small split shot about a foot above the jig for extra weight for casting. He sometimes puts a float above the jig and slowly retrieves the rig with excellent results. The secret was to keep the jig just off the bottom.
Bob experiments with colors to see which they want – usually something with chartreuse. If the grub has much of a tail, Bob cuts it short so the bluegill can’t play with the lure. He says of this rig, “If they play, they pay.”
The next morning we began in nearby Beaver Dam Creek hoping to catch a load of shellcracker but found only bluegill, however, the largemouth bass wouldn’t leave us alone. All these fish and gazillions more including smallmouth, crappie and catfish swim not far from Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park so I’ve promised my wife we’ll make a return trip so she can experience the fishing and try out hiking trails in the park.
Seven modern cabins provide all the creature comforts including gas log fireplaces, satellite television and views of Kentucky Lake, but she has her sights set on the park’s single rustic log cabin. It has been modernized so all we’ll need to bring is our food, fishing supplies and a couple of good books.
There are two general use campgrounds – Happy Hollow has water, electrical hookup, restrooms and a bath house while the site along the shoreline is more primitive. Open year-round, all sites are first-come, first-served. The bathroom at the primitive campground closes during winter so campers use Happy Hollow facilities.
Runners will be making the trek by land from Eva Beach to Pilot Knob and back during the Pilot Knob 10K Tennessee State Parks run on November 10th.
For more information call 800- 714-7305 or click here.