September - October 2009 Feature Park
Head to the 'Mountains’ at Possum Kingdom State Park
Unlike many Texas state parks conveniently located near major highways, Possum Kingdom State Park in north Texas hugs a remote corner of the impounded Brazos River in the far northwest corner of Palo Pinto County, where whitetail deer and other critters tend to outnumber the rural residents.
Park topography, instead of consisting of what one might expect to be monotonously flat prairie and plains, surprises with oak, mesquite and juniper-covered hills, alluring sandstone outcroppings and majestic limestone bluffs framing one of the most beautiful lakes in the state.
First-time visitors to the Possum Kingdom area may be amazed to discover the picturesque Palo Pinto Mountain range with several peaks, including 1,462-foot Sugarloaf Mountain, rising more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding prairie. The compelling scenery explains why an increasing number of Dallas-Fort Worth denizens are choosing to build vacation and retirement homes along the shores of the 19,000-acre reservoir contained by the Morris Sheppard Dam, completed in 1941.
Most of the development, so far, has been to the east, by the dam on the Fort Worth side of the lake, according to Rocky Holland, superintendent of the Possum Kingdom State Park, which lies farther west.
“It’s a beautiful lake with very clear water,” Holland says. “Compared to other water bodies around here, it has pretty deep water and has only been slightly impacted by the drought. All boat ramps are usable and we have lots of scuba divers here because of the deep, clear water.”
That explains why scores of tent and RV campers dotted the shoreline in the Spanish Oaks camping area of the park on a warm, but overcast midweek morning in August on my recent visit. Some lolled about their campsites, cooking breakfast and reading, while others rigged fishing tackle and readied their boats for the daily outing on the lake.
“The big draw is the lake,” Holland confirms. “People come
here to boat, ski, fish and enjoy other lake activities. About 75 percent
of the campers have boats.”
A recent influx of repair money from state lawmakers is resulting in ongoing improvements to the park, which the past two years has been plagued with restroom and water plant problems. The busy restrooms behind the park store have been torn down and rebuilt, and two of the six cabins ($75 a night) are slated for renovations and will be made handicapped-accessible. In addition, the park’s water plant is back in operation, although the drinking water has been deemed non-potable due to high salinity.
Not to worry. There’s plenty of bottled water, soft drinks and just anything else campers might need available at the well-stocked Possum Kingdom State Park Store & Marina operated by Jeff and Lisa Nichols. Visitors hankering to get out on the lake can rent a variety of watercraft – from jet skis to a 22-foot pontoon boat – by the day or half day. Visit www.pkspstoreandmarina.com for details.
Overnight camping accommodations range from 10 primitive walk-in campsites ($7 per night) and 55 water-only campsites ($12) to 40 water-and-electric sites ($17) and 21 premium, lakeside water-and-electric sites ($20) spread among four different camping areas. Restrooms with showers are available. Like all visitors, adult campers 13 and older also pay a $4 daily park entrance fee.
A number of campsites feature cliffside shade shelters with metal roofs and rock pillars built to mimic rock work done more than 60 years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Interestingly, Possum Kingdom State Park just north of the once-bustling town of Caddo, was the last CCC state park project in Texas, with construction beginning in 1941 and ending roughly a year later with the outbreak of World War II.
A Texas historical marker erected along the CCC-constructed main road to the state park tells the story of the workers’ efforts to develop a park on the lake’s shores. Few remnants of the six rambling barracks, water tank and machinery that once dotted the upland chaparral remain. A flag pole erected in a field pocked with weathered flagstone that once formed camp walkways, mark the center of the CCC’s camp quadrangle. The scant camp ruins, a stone culvert and picnic table serve as the only reminders of the park’s CCC origins.
Texas Parks and Wildlife opened the park to the public in 1946, offering more than 1,500 acres of woodlands and access to one of the state’s most pristine lakes. Once equally popular with West Texans and DFW area residents alike due to its location midway between Fort Worth and Abilene, Possum Kingdom today draws 60 to 70 percent of its visitors from Fort Worth and its suburbs.
Though most park visitors come for lake activities, Possum Kingdom State Park offers a variety of recreational activities. Cyclists, hikers and bird watchers also find park trails and woodlands inviting. Accomplished birders might even hear or spot the park’s two endangered species -- the black-capped vireo and golden-cheeked warbler -- which are known to frequent the wooded canyons.
The free fishing in state parks program has proved popular at Possum Kingdom, although summertime catches have been somewhat limited. Fall promises greater opportunity to reel in crappie, catfish and bass. Stripers topping 50 pounds have known to be pulled from the sparkling reservoir waters.
Future plans call for a return of some of the official Texas State Longhorn herd that once grazed the park. Overgrazing resulted in the historic herd being moved to Fort Griffin and San Angelo state parks. The return of the majestic bovines will give folks one more reason for visit.
Possum Kingdom State Park is located off U. S. Highway 180 on Park Road 33 about 17 miles north of Caddo. For more information visit the Possum Kingdom State Park web site.
Article by Rob McCorkle