As a teenager, I’d always heard how big the fish were at Millwood State Park, just nine miles northeast of Ashdown. But I don’t recall anyone mentioning the size of the alligators!

Sure, I knew the reptiles were there. They’d been known to swim beneath boats or slip off the bank and into the water. But to be honest, when I heard folks talk I thought their stories were more tall tale than fact. Then I met Superintendent Mark Myers.

“You should see this,” Mark said as he took me around the park and pulled up along the bank downstream from the dam. He passed the binoculars to me and at first I only saw an egret perched atop a log. But then I spotted it, a young alligator sunning itself on the log beneath the bird’s feet. “They love it down here because fishermen toss back gar and other fish they don’t want, and the alligators have plenty to eat.”

The problem, however, is that the alligators have multiplied over the years, despite the few permits doled out each September which allows alligator hunting. Some bulls have grown so large they’ve weighed in at more than 800 pounds and measured more than 12 feet long. According to Mark, these big critters are one of the main reasons swimming isn’t allowed in the park.

“If you bring your dog with you, you have to watch them,” Mark says. “If the gators get ahold of them, they’re just another tasty snack.”

Mark has worked for the park system for 29 years, the last three and a half years spent as the superintendent at Millwood. He has a big job, taking care of the park’s 800 acres, plus an additional 29,260 acres of lake. He does everything from fell trees and tend walking paths to rescue boaters and manage wildlife.

“It’s not easy to get lost on the lake because it is pretty wide open,” Mark says. He showed me various points that a boater could see from practically any spot on the lake, from the marina and dam to the white cliffs along the north shore. However, because of the lake’s size, most problems arise when boaters run out of gas.

In one instance, Mark took his boat out to answer a call for help. “I couldn’t see them anywhere,” he says. “Then I pulled up along a couple guys fishing from their boat and asked if they’d seen anyone. It turned out they were the ones who had called. You’d think they would have at least tried to wave me down,” he said, amused.

Largemouth Bass
Millwood State Park

Even though I’m not much of a fisherman, it is easy to see why Millwood can truly be called a fisherman’s paradise. The lake contains practically every fish but trout. Countless catfish hide in the water’s depths, which is one of the reasons Millwood has one of the highest catch limits in the state. The Florida strain of largemouth bass is also plentiful, and fishermen of all ages love the thrill of pulling in a five pound bass. Even the crappies, which typically are rather small, have frequently weighed in at over two pounds each.

Aside from the alligators and fish, Millwood is also home to deer, foxes, coyotes and numerous birds, including at least two resident bald eagles and several ospreys, making it a haven for nature lovers and birders. “We have three hiking trails around the lake,” Mark says, including the 1.5-mile Waterfowl Way, and the 4-mile Wildlife Landing, which will eventually be extended to a 9-mile trek.

The park also features a convenience store and bait shop, two boat ramps, two on-lake gas stations, and a marina that rents kayaks, canoes, paddle boats, and motor boats. If you want to extend your fishing trip, you can stay at one of 114 campsites, rent out a pavilion to feed a crowd, and let your children romp at one of two playgrounds in the park.

Besides all these amenities, Millwood also features programming year round, including kayaking lessons, scavenger hunts, and walks with an interpreter who teaches you about everything from the wildlife sanctuary to the animal senses.

So the next time your kids say there isn’t anything to do this summer, pack them up and haul them out to Millwood State Park. Just remember, don’t go in the water!