Jennifer Heisey, recreation and trails manager for the Calcasieu Ranger District of the Kasatchie National Forest, Vernon Unit, said that Fort Polk is surrounded by one of the country’s few national forest sites and that there are an abundance of opportunities for both Families and single Soldiers to get out and have some fun. “We’re located just outside the gate. You can literally drive off Fort Polk and you’re on forest service land,” said Heisey.
Your closest opportunity to experience nature at its finest is to drive to Little Cypress, about 10 miles from Fort Polk after turning onto to La. Hwy 10. This pond could be your perfect getaway. Little Cypress offers pavilions, picnic areas, fire rings, grills, bank fishing, non-motorized boating, a boat ramp, hiking, biking, flushable toilets, drinking water and trash disposal sites. Not to mention, Little Cypress has the only paved path in the forest service trail system. Although it hasn’t been officially measured, Heisey said she believes the trail is about a half mile long. The path offers scenic views of the pond, birds and amazing wildlife. “If you’re looking for a great exercise experience, this is a little more picturesque than running Honor Field,” said Doug Rhodes, deputy district ranger for the Calcasieu Ranger District of the Kasatchie National Forest.
The U.S. Forest Service offers fun and educational events through the year. Forestry Awareness week is one of those annual events. From May 7-11, almost 800 Vernon Parish fifth graders learned about nature as they hiked along the trail. There were a series of seven stations set up along the trail to teach students about wildlife, forest products and utilization, biodiversity and more. Heisey said the goal is to get the kids to remember that they have access to a national forest and the best ways to use and treat it. “For instance, we try to teach them about littering and understanding the importance of preserving the forest. They might even tell their parents not to throw trash on the ground. They also learn about wildlife and how the forest provides products that people need and use. We hope they’re able to remember these facts and that it will help create a spark of interest about the forest,” she said.
For adults at Fort Polk who like to hunt, just down the road from Little Cypress is Government Pond. Heisey said this side of the woods is really known for its hunting. “It’s very active. There are plenty of people who come out to hunt. And everyone loves Hunter Camp. Folks pull up in their campers, set up their campsites and go out into the woods to hunt,” said Heisey.
Those who prefer to enjoy nature at faster speeds can enjoy the horse and vehicle trails at Government Pond. “We have a little area set up specifically for horses and there is a long trail for them to ride on. But the off-road vehicle trails are the big thing. They are located between Little Cypress Pond and Fullerton Lake. In addition, you can also go mountain biking on any of these trails,” she said.
However, the Forest Service’s second largest site, Fullerton, is definitely worth a visit. “It’s an old historic sawmill site. Ninety percent of the structures are gone but The historic Fullerton Mill complex has a pond with a little pavilion, picnic tables, fishing and an historic trail. The path is set up so that people can use a brochure to walk along the trail. They follow the markers and when they come to a particular spot, the brochure shows you what it used look like. The trails at Fullerton are about 2.5 miles. It’s really nice,” Rhodes said.
Fullerton has a huge lake where many of the forest service fishing derbies are held, said Heisey. The next derbies are Saturday at Valentine Lake Recreation Area, Gardner, La. and June 9 at Fullerton Lake Recreation Area, Pitkin, from 7-11 a.m. The derbies are open to children up to age 14. There is no cost and both lakes will be stocked with 500 pounds of catfish. There will be prizes awarded and complimentary goodie bags. Children must be accompanied by an adult.
Heisey also said Fullerton has camping sites available for tents and RVs. “They don’t have electric hook-ups, but there are bathrooms and running water. For $5, it’s a pretty inexpensive place to camp. It’s a nice little area and it’s an easy drive from Fort Polk,” she said.
If you are willing to travel a little farther, Kincaid Lake Recreation Complex is near Alexandria and is the largest area in the Calcasieu Ranger District of Kisatchie National Forest with 15 miles of mountain bike trails, 27 miles of backpacking trails, 70 covered picnic sites, a lake with a beach for swimming, boat ramp and more than 41 camping sites that are equipped with both water and electricity for an amazing camping experience.
Rhodes said he would like to see more people make use of the forest. “We want the parking lot to be full every weekend. I feel the greatest problem is that the Fort Polk community doesn’t know they have all these options to get out and have fun fishing, boating and hiking. The Forest Service is trying to reach out to Fort Polk Families and provide them with fun outdoor recreational opportunities,” said Rhodes. For more information on Little Cypress call (318) 793-9427 or visit www.fs.usda.gov/kisatchie.