by Linda Card
As a newcomer to Smyth County, I’m on a mission to explore and experience all that this special area has to offer. I’ve made several trips to Hungry Mother State Park (HMSP) near Marion, and there is so much to see and do at the park – more than you could do in a single day.
Recently, my family celebrated a birthday with an afternoon at HMSP. It was a perfect August day – sunny, bright, warm and not too hot. With a lunch we packed before the trip, we found a shaded picnic table near the boathouse, which brings me to my first “best” way to spend your time at HMSP: picnicking in the woods. The park is dotted with large, sturdy tables along paved paths that wind through the grounds, and you don’t have to go far to find one
Even more impressive is the park’s accessibility. The picnic tables have an extended end for folks who use a wheelchair, and the paved paths facilitate the use of mobility aids of all kinds. Streams meander here and there, bubbling over rocks and branches, straddled by small bridges. It is the perfect place for an afternoon or evening meal, all within sight of the sparkling water of the lake, and it’s accommodating to all.
Out On the Water
And that’s the next “best” thing about HMSP: the lake, or more specifically, boating on the lake. After lunch, we rented paddleboats at the boathouse. To quote my sister-in-law, what “good, old-fashioned summertime fun” that was! It was a blast exploring the lake, heading up the hidden channels into the woods, and then maneuvering to turn around.
Out in the open, the scenery is spectacular everywhere you look. The possibilities for being on the water are nearly unlimited. At one end of the 108-acre lake there’s a boat ramp where you can launch your own vessel. The boathouse in the middle of the park offers paddleboats, kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards and a unique device called a hydrobike. Saturdays at the park are busy, especially at the boathouse and the lake where singles, couples and families scooted around the water. The boats rent by the hour, which didn’t seem long to us until we started pedaling and the muscles in our thighs woke up! The discomfort didn’t last, though, and we enjoyed every minute of that hour
Camping & Cabins
Earlier this summer we spent the night at Camp Burson, one of three campgrounds at the park. This is definitely a highlight and another favorite of mine. Facilities for RV owners include water and electric hookups, with a few sites that also include sewer hookup. Tenters are welcome, and there are yurts available to rent as well. A stream gurgles down from the dam and spillway and runs along the edge of the campground. The steep wooded area opposite is dense and lush, with lots of mountain laurel. The store in the camp office building also stocks a variety of goods and snacks.
We sat out in the evening and relaxed in the quiet, peaceful surroundings. You can’t beat the rates for camping, with fees ranging from $32 to $48, and discounts for Virginia residents. For those who aren’t camping fans, several cabins are available to rent, including — for history buffs — some of the original CCC cabins from the 1930s.
A Beach in the Mountains
We can’t talk about HMSP without mentioning the best beach – yes, that’s right, a beach. None too common in these parts but extremely popular at Hungry Mother, it’s a “best of” for sure.
The beach has a bathhouse and concession stand, and big mounds of sand piled high for the kids. Adjacent to the beach are more picnic tables and a playground, which provides a perfect spot for families. A fishing pier extends into the water where, in addition to catching bass, bluegill, crappie and more, it’s fun to watch the ducks skimming along the shoreline.
Special Events at Lakeview Event Center & Hemlock Haven
HMSP has so much to offer, and it’s wonderful to see so many folks enjoying it all. The day we were at the park, a company from Wytheville was having their company picnic on the lawn at Lakeview Event Center. They set up tents near the event center and had a variety of activities for kids and adults. Boxes of picnic lunches were stacked in the hallway, and music played outside. Seeing the event reminded me of earlier times, when every company sponsored such an annual outing. It was refreshing to see it happening here. The park also has the Hemlock Haven conference center tucked away in the woods.
The Discovery Center
Whenever we have visitors, we always take them to the park and drive through to show off the gorgeous scenery. On one of these visits back in May, as I drove toward the event center, we spotted a mama deer and her baby “Bambi” on the side of the road. We stopped and watched from the side of the road, mesmerized as the two of them nonchalantly strolled by, slowly grazing. They weren’t at all concerned by our presence and slowly crossed the road in front of us. That was truly a “best of” moment, a wondrous sight, seeing the fawn especially.
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not. Hungry Mother State Park has it all. I recommend starting at the Visitor’s Center, which has a museum and a gift shop, and is my final “top pick.” It’s a welcoming place, with local flora and fauna showcased and lots of literature about the park and the area. They also have a terrific selection of t-shirts in all sizes.
The HMSP park staff offers a wide variety of programs throughout the year, with activities for kids and educational programs galore. In the summer, you can catch musical performances on Friday evenings. The highlight of the summer season is the Hungry Mother Festival in July. We attended the Arts and Craft Show, which was packed with artisans and craftspeople of all types. I bought a lovely photo of a nearby waterfall and some hand-made pottery.
There’s much more to see and do at HMSP. After you’ve visited a few times, you’ll no doubt have your own list of favorites. So get out there and enjoy it!