Kisatchie trails offer views of forest history

By Dr. Steve Payne
Journal Correspondent

Fullerton Mill Site is worth a visit, to
enjoy hiking, fishing, & see historical
sites form the forest industry of years
One of the top hiking, camping and recreational destinations in Louisiana also offers a slice of timber industry history as well as a unique lodging experience. You will find much to discover and enjoy with a weekend outing and drive to the Calcasieu District of the Kisatchie National Forest in Vernon Parish.

Hiking, biking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, camping, and picnicking opportunities abound in this Vernon Unit of this national forest and near the small communities of Pitkin, Fullerton and Cravens. The Fort Polk wildlife management area of this district is open for deer and turkey hunting. Many miles of trails exist for ATV and horseback riding. There are also scenic areas for nature study, wildlife viewing/photography, or just plain solitude.

One of several recreational complexes there is at Fullerton Lake. This is the site of the historic Fullerton Sawmill and the once, thriving timber town of Fullerton. Fullerton had as many as 5000 residents from 1907 to 1927 during its timber boom with a hospital, bank, auto dealership, an elementary and high school, movie theatre, and other small-town amenities.

Living quarters there with electricity and indoor plumbing were provided for some saw mill managers and employees. Active operation of the Gulf Lumber Company began in 1907, but the mill closed in 1927 when Gulf Timber moved west. At one time, the Fullerton Mill was the largest pine sawmill west of the Mississippi River and the second largest in the South. The saw mill and town were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. Mill ruins and the lake created for sawmill operations can be observed on the 1.6 mile hiking trail around the lake.

Beyond the Fullerton Recreational Complex, there are also the Little Cypress and Blue Hole Complexes, as well as the Enduro multiple-use trail system. A tranquil area for picnicking and a short half-mile loop walk is the spring-fed pond and Old Sarge Interpretive Trail at the Little Cypress Complex. I'd recommend visiting that site and the hike around Fullerton Lake even for those with very limited time and interest in walking or hiking. Brochures at these sites and at other locations in this Calcasieu District (or online information) can help you decide on additional places there to visit and enjoy.

There are typical motel and accommodation options fairly near this area in Leesville, Deridder and Fort Polk. However, only a few miles south of both Fullerton and the other complexes in this recreational area is a special lodging and educational alternative. Known as Allen Acres, this is a reasonably-priced bed and breakfast in a beautiful, rural setting. Dr. Charles Allen, a botanist and retired UL- Monroe professor, and his wife Susan have spent years developing gardens designed to attract butterflies and hummingbirds on their property adjacent to the Kisatchie wilderness area. Just one feature is the national champion gallberry tree that was registered in 2006 by Dr. Allen and is located a very short distance from their property on national forest land. The Allens raise many varieties of chickens, and fresh eggs dominate their hearty breakfast menu. Dr. Allen, an authority on the native plants of Louisiana provides numerous seminars, described online, and can conduct tours, for a fee, to rare and interesting ecosystems of this national forest and other Louisiana bogs, prairies, and wildlife areas. There are five guest rooms at the lodging with a community area and many books and magazine articles written by Dr. Allen and other naturalists. Susan Allen will likely share with you some of her wonderful butterfly photography as you linger over breakfast and get ready to burn some breakfast calories hiking the trails of the Vernon Unit of the Kisatchie National Forest.

For outdoor enthusiasts and amateur naturalists, you will find it difficult beating quality time spent at the many and varied attractions found in this particular recreational area.