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Enjoy free picnic areas during balmy spring

Elvis Presley’s Birthplace in Tupelo is filled with interesting things to see and do, including visit his first home, a chapel, museum, and welcome center. An adjacent park featuring a lake and picnic areas is the perfect place to relax and reflect on the humble background of the famous singer. “Elvis at 13” is a statue located in the park. 

By Kara Kimbrough

Dilemma…a tight budget doesn’t allow room for a flight to an expensive vacation spot. But here’s a thought…there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the beauty, warm sun, and cool breezes of spring for the price of a tank of gas. One of the best ways to have fun on a budget is to get outside, roll out a blanket or quilt, and enjoy al fresco dining, bird-watching, or just plain relaxing. Before jumping ship to another state, take your movable feast to one of Mississippi’s scenic picnic areas and experience our state’s natural beauty while soaking in the sunshine.

There are too many to list, so here are just a few of Mississippi’s top picnic spots.

  1. Visitors from around the world flock here to see it, so it’s only fitting that every Mississippian visit the Elvis Presley Birthplace and Museum. Located in Tupelo, the small shack where Elvis was born is the first stop but after touring the museum, chapel, and church, a picnic in the 15-acre park filled with a young Elvis statue, fountain, and shady areas is in order. It’s the perfect place to relax under the trees, enjoy a meal, and revel in the memories of one of Mississippi’s most famous natives.
  2. Another famous Mississippian provided a place for fellow residents to study history and picnic on his property. William Faulkner’s home place in Oxford, Rowan Oak, is a favorite stop for literary buffs, but adjacent Bailey’s Woods offers picturesque picnic spots in a tranquil setting.
  3. Speaking of picturesque, nothing fits the bill like a view of the majestic Mississippi River. Thankfully, both Natchez and Vicksburg offer scenic picnic areas overlooking the mighty river. Natchez’s spot is called Bluff Park, and Riverfront Park is located in Vicksburg.
  4. Jackson’s metro area is filled with parks and picnic areas featuring playgrounds, walking trails splash pads, and shaded areas. One of my favorites is Madison’s Strawberry Patch Park. Featuring a lake and lots of trees, it’s a small but quaint spot to roll out a blanket and enjoy a spring day.
  5. Daphne Park in Laurel, mentioned on the HGTV show “Hometown,” has been a favorite picnic spot of locals and visitors for decades. Located near the downtown area, its massive oaks, old locomotive, and quiet picnic spots have entertained outdoor diners since the previous century.
  6. Kamper Park and Zoo in Hattiesburg offers a spacious 40-acre park in which to picnic and an adjacent zoo for after-lunch entertainment. It’s a relatively small zoo but a nice one that’s easily navigable when time is short.
  7. Lastly, the Gulf Coast area boasts over 100 parks and picnic areas spread from Jackson County to Harrison, then over the Bay Bridge to Hancock County. My favorite spot is Jones Park in Gulfport, located at the intersection of U.S. Highways 49 and 90. Take your pick of grassy areas shaded by palm trees, dine under the spacious Barksdale Pavilion, or stroll out over the sand to the water’s edge, all while enjoying the cool breeze wafting from the gulf. Coming in a close second is the small but picturesque grounds of the historic Depot in Bay St. Louis.  The shaded grassy area surrounding the depot served the centerpiece for the movie “This Property is Condemned” starring Robert Redford and Natalie Wood. Tables and benches around the duck pond offer the perfect spot for scenic pondside picnics.

Whether it’s lunch where Elvis once walked, an afternoon snack under majestic oaks, or dinner at the water’s edge, nothing is more memorable than time spent outdoors surrounded by Mississippi’s natural beauty.

Since Vicksburg boasts several perfect picnic spots, I thumbed through the “Vintage Vicksburg” cookbook to find an appropriate outdoor dining recipe. Served on toothpicks with a side of sauce, Yankee Meatballs would be a perfect addition to any picnic. The irony that a recipe with the work “Yankee” in it made it into a renowned Civil War city’s cookbook doesn’t escape me, but I’m glad it did.

Kara Kimbrough is a food and travel writer and travel agent from Mississippi. Email her at kkprco@yahoo.com.


Dot Kiely’s Yankee Meatballs

3 pounds hot sausage

1-pound mild sausage

4 eggs, beaten

1-1/2 cups soft bread crumbs

Mix all ingredients. Shape into small balls. Brown meatballs in skillet; drain well. Serve with sauce.

Yankee Sauce

3 cups ketchup

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup wine vinegar

1/4 cup strongly brewed coffee

1/2 cup soy sauce

Combine all sauce ingredients in a skillet and simmer 15 minutes. Add meatballs. Bake in oven for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.

Recipe from Vintage Vicksburg