Best East Texas State Parks

For the Casual Campers: Martin Creek Lake State Park

It may be the loudest state park in Texas, but it's still one of our favorites—and here's why.

By Katharine Shilcutt April 28, 2016 Published in the May 2016 issue of Houstonia Magazine

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“This has got to be the loudest state park in Texas,” I mumbled to my husband somewhere around one in the morning, tossing and turning in our two-person tent. From outside, I could hear the steady thrum of the coal-fired power plant that towered in the distance, across the water at Martin Creek Lake State Park.

It was a heavy, buzzy noise I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten; despite childhood summers spent on this very same campground, I didn’t remember the sound—or even the existence—of the power plant. I only remembered sweaty June days spent with my cousins exploring the lake’s forested island, and crisp October afternoons carving pumpkins while our parents roasted hot dogs over the fire by the dozen.

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By the next morning, the power plant was forgotten in the face of the day’s activities. We took long, contemplative hikes by the water and across the footbridge to the island, where wild plum trees were in full bloom and fat rabbits chewed grass in a sunny meadow.

We perfected our campfire-building techniques (“Those guys are cheating,” my husband said, pointing at three grown men gleefully squirting lighter fluid onto their pyre, although I saw a hint of jealousy in his eyes). We roasted hot dogs and torched marshmallows, smearing them on graham crackers like children. We met up with a khaki-shirted ranger for a park-wide class on stargazing under the glossy black skies above the East Texas woods. And we did quite a bit of woodpecker spotting.

That last activity became my favorite hobby over the course of our three-day weekend, especially during the afternoon I spent reading an old favorite novel in the stillness of the towering pines. Hear a woodpecker, try to spot it on a distant pine tree, generally fail, go back to reading in my folding camp chair, repeat. I had nowhere to go, and the leisurely repetition was as soothing as any massage or sensory deprivation chamber. On our second night in the tent, I slept like a baby.

Waking early on Sunday for our last day, I realized I couldn’t even hear the power plant anymore—not over the rustle of pine needles in the breeze, the crackle of the kindling as I ginned it up to make a final pot of campfire coffee, the woodpeckers I could hear but not find, or the cheerful morning sounds of children waking for the day, dragging out their bikes and fishing poles from nearby campsites, ready to make memories of their own.

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