Ask anyone who camps at Lake Martin, and they will tell you about the stars. At the end of the day, when the sun sets and daylight finally fades, an endless sky full of twinkling lights makes its grand appearance. Campers experience this spectacular display of stars in a special way, a way like no other.
“I camped when I was a child with my family, and now I camp with my friends,” said Alexander City’s Tom Collier, retired Camp ASCCA director and camping enthusiast. Collier’s favorite places to camp on Lake Martin include the islands near Chimney Rock, the Highway 280 Bridge and Camp ASCCA. “Camping is stress-free and brings me more in touch with nature and closer to God.”
All Lake Martin tent campers know the importance of preparation, and while most campers want to pack light, there are a few items every camper needs. These include safety items, food supplies, sleeping accommodations and entertainment.
“Always consider your access point,” Collier said, stressing the issue of safety. “If an emergency arises, or bad weather moves in, it is important to think through your plan to get back home.”
There is cell service on all the islands where he’s camped Collier said. But it’s always a good idea to pack a first-aid kit. He brings bug spray for the occasional red bugs and ticks, but mostly, he enjoys the ospreys, blue herons, bald eagles and white-tailed deer that regularly make appearances. He said his only bad experience with wildlife involved an unwanted guest, a Copperhead, at his site.
In addition to safety, camping preparations also include planning meals. Most campers prefer to keep it simple, and cooking over a campfire can be both simple and entertaining. Collier said there is always plenty of downed wood, branches and limbs to use as firewood, so there is never a need to cut wood. In addition to a cooler, it’s easy to bring along a grill grate on which to cook. Camp stoves are also simple to pack, as well.
For campers who would rather not cook but instead want to keep it completely basic, there are many freeze-dried food options available. Always bring the appropriate amount of water to rehydrate the food packets. For a short trip in mild weather, gallon jugs of water are the easiest way to go, but water filters travel light and make purifying lake water simple if heat or length of stay dictates a greater amount of water.
Collier said he prefers a tent when he camps, but it’s easy to hang a hammock and sleep among the trees. If using a tent, he recommended placing a tarp on the ground to keep the rain out and to protect the tent from getting punctured by rocks. He also suggested bringing a sleeping pad or air mattress to provide a cushion over the hard ground. A sleeping bag and inflatable pillow provide the perfect warmth and comfort for a good night’s sleep beneath the stars.
Lake Martin provides natural entertainment with its wildlife during the day and endless stars at night, but campers could bring along a fishing rod. Whether fishing for dinner or catching for sport and release, the lake is teeming with bass, crappie, catfish and sunfish. Or pack a camera and capture the beauty of the lake and its surroundings from behind the lens.
As a reminder, Collier said to always consider your impact on the lake when camping. He practices the leave-no-trace philosophy. In other words, he leaves the site clean and ready for the next camper. If possible, he finds an existing campsite to use.
Collier’s final advice for new campers on Lake Martin is simple: Practice makes perfect. Practice setting up your tent ahead of time, and always arrive at the campsite early and with plenty of daylight ahead. Finally, the best way to be sure you’ve thought of everything needed for your trip is to perform a trial run. A night of camping in the backyard, especially if the kids are along, helps to identify needs or issues not otherwise anticipated.
Dadeville’s Brad Thompson and his wife Charlotte also enjoy camping at Lake Martin and agree with Collier.
“Be prepared,” said Thompson, “bring more provisions than you think you need.”
The Thompsons have been camping at Lake Martin for many years, and have camped all over the lake, along with their two sons, who are Eagle Scouts. When selecting a campsite, the Thompsons look for a nice view, a sandy beach and a kind shoreline. They like to keep things simple by finding a primitive site where they cook good food over an open fire. And of course, the Thompsons also enjoy the stars.
Like Collier, Thompson camped as a child.
“I remember going to Smith Mountain and exploring the area around the old, dilapidated ranger station. This was in the 1970s before the watchtower was (restored).”
The Thompsons enjoy venturing off their campsite, and they also recommend the hiking trail on Smith Mountain, which leads to wonderful views of the lake, but camping at the fire tower is no longer allowed. Thompson enjoys setting up camp on the island near Bay Pines. Look closely to spot several eagles’ nests hidden in the trees.
A final word of advice about camping from both Collier and Thompson: Select a campsite on land designated for public use. Alabama Power Company’s division of Shoreline Management controls much of the land around Lake Martin, and camping is allowed on these natural and undeveloped lands. But do make certain to avoid privately owned property at the lake. Visit the Treasured Mile Program page at lmra.info for a map featuring Alabama project islands and shoreline.
Collier and Thompson agreed, camping is nice any time of year, but fall might be their favorite. After Labor Day when the summer boat traffic subsides, as well as the heat, locals continue to enjoy the lake. The weather is perfect, the colors are glorious, and tranquility prevails.
And never forget to look up at the twinkling skies above the sparkling lake. You’ll be in for a glorious treat.