By Kim Lyle
When you hear the collective honking of geese shortly after veering off LA66, you’ll know you’re close. Drive a little further down the unpaved, winding road and there is a modest herd of donkey roaming around a small fenced in pond.
Just across the street is the Pond General Store, where the wagging tails of two house pups greet visitors. The name – as you probably guessed – comes from the adjacent pond first created by the parish as a watering hole for oxen, horses, and mules as they hauled cotton towards the nearby Fort Adams riverfront decades ago. Today, people mainly stop in to buy Gatorade and granola bars before spending the day hiking Clark Creek trails. But, take the time to chat with friendly storeowner Liz Chaffin, and you’ll become enamored by her Southern charm and endless knowledge of this building’s rich history.
Initially built in 1881, after the previous owners’ building burnt down, the store has remained in the Chaffin family for an impressive five generations. It also acted as the town Postal Office until it was closed down in 1976, an all too common story in many rural locations. However, its well-preserved skeleton remains at the back of the shop, acting as a valuable window into times past. The individual mailboxes of local residents are still visible. In fact, the store is full of museum worthy material from the antique cash register that was floated down the Mississippi to old newspaper clippings.
Possibly the most impressive artifact is the store’s centerpiece: an intricate dollhouse handcrafted by Liz’s uncle. Every detail exudes artistry and admirable patience, from the hand-sewn curtains to the furniture made from thinly sliced tin cans. Flip a switch and watch the house’s miniature light bulbs flicker on.
Aside from the contents of any typical general store, there are a few more site specific items including: handmade soaps from local goat’s milk, glass bottled sarsaparilla sodas, and original postcards drawn by Liz’s niece. If a ten-minute visit isn’t enough to satisfy curiosities, the Chaffin family owns a set of cabins next to the lake that can be rented out for the weekend.
After visiting the Pond Store, continue down the snaking dirt road for little over a mile and Clark Creek’s entrance will appear to your left. Unlike much of South Louisiana’s marshy landscape, this area has a fair amount of rocky hills and steep, moss-covered ravines – oh, and waterfalls. There are just about 40 within the area. A rare sight in this part of the South, they range in height from the average person to upwards of 30 feet.
The man made trails accommodate a variety of ages and skill-levels. The two officially marked paths labeled “primitive” and “improved” are self-explanatory. However, many of the markers have been worn down over the years. So, if getting lost is a deep-seated fear, make sure you ask for a detailed map available at the Pond Store.
For the creative and adventurous, it’s possible to make your own path along the Clark Creek bed by jumping and splashing from rock to rock. Whichever trail you choose, make sure you bring footwear you don’t mind getting a bit wet as you’ll cross water several times throughout the hike. You’ll also need $3.00 for an entry fee at the foot of the trails, as local rangers ticket cars that fail to do so.
Yet another motivating reason to visit is the wide variety of creatures that call this land home. The quiet and patient are usually rewarded with sightings of chipmunk, marbled salamanders, migratory birds, fox, and the occasional wild turkey.
As equally diverse as the wildlife are the people that come to explore the area. You’re likely to meet hikers that have ventured from both urban and rural parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. They come for various reasons – there are photographers, scientists, bird watchers, and families just wanting to take their kids exploring outdoors.
Clark Creek is literally and figuratively a breath of fresh air. It’s even more relevant today as our ever-increasing dependency on technology tends to leave us pent up indoors. While somewhat civilized by several constructed staircases and observation decks, the undeveloped streambeds and towering ridges are absolutely stunning. The Clark Creek natural area is an inspiring example of how necessary it is to preserve the beauty of the surrounding natural landscape.