Trail: Dr. Ray Watson Memorial Trail
Hike Location: Noxubee National Wildlife RefugeGeographic Location: northeast of Louisville, MS (33.27081, -88.78351)Length: 1 mileDifficulty: 0/10 (Easy)Last Hiked: March 2019Overview: A short double loop through bottomland forest.Refuge Information: https://www.fws.gov/refuge/noxubee/Hike Route Map: https://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=742263
Directions to the trailhead: From the intersection of SR 15 and SR 25 in Louisville, take SR 25 north 8.1 miles to Bluff Lake Road and turn right on Bluff Lake Rd. Drive Bluff Lake Rd. east 13.7 miles to the refuge Visitor Center on the left. Park in the parking lot in front of the Visitor Center.
The hike: Spanning parts of Winston, Oktibbeha, and Noxubee Counties in east-central Mississippi, Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge consists of more than 48,000 acres of lakes, bottomland forest, and upland pine forest. The refuge was established in 1940 out of land bought up by the depression-era Resettlement Administration. Therefore, all of the refuge’s land was extensively farmed before the refuge existed. The refuge’s unusual name comes from a Choctaw Indian word that translates “to stink.” Like most national wildlife refuges, Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge offers great wildlife viewing but only limited hiking opportunities. On point, the refuge offers two boardwalks and five trails, but most of the trails are less than 1 mile long. When I came here on a warm and muggy Thursday morning in mid-March, a strong line of thunderstorms closing in from the west forced me to keep my hike short and close to the Visitor Center. Thus, I chose to hike the Dr. Ray Watson Memorial Trail, which is named for a former professor of botany at nearby Mississippi State University who spent a lot of time in the refuge’s forests. Despite the trail’s short length, I recommend waterproof boots for this hike due to a large number of wet areas, and I would not hike this trail in the summer due to heat and bugs.

Information kiosk at trailhead

From the front of the Visitor Center, walk south across the parking lot to reach the small information kiosk that marks the start of the Dr. Ray Watson Memorial Trail. The trail is laid out in a figure-eight configuration with the trailhead at the very top of the north loop. To get to the lake overlook quickly, this hike turns right to follow a red brick path through a planted native garden area. Soon the brick path curves left to cross the main refuge road and enter the Webster Memorial Oak Grove. The oak grove is a pleasant grassy area with sparsely planted oak trees. At 0.15 miles, you reach the observation platform overlooking Loakfoma Lake. The lake consists mostly of open water, which should make for good waterfowl viewing. Unfortunately, there seemed to be nothing moving when I was here, and the incoming storm did not allow me to be patient. Maybe your waterfowl viewing luck will be better.

Lake Loakfoma overlook

Past the overlook, the trail heads into the bottomland forest that will surround it for the rest of the hike. Just past 0.2 miles, you reach a trail intersection at the south end of the north loop. Turn right to head down the connector trail toward the south loop. 34 blue numbered markers correspond to an excellent trail guide available at the Visitor Center. The trail guide identifies common trees and shrubs, so this trail makes a great introduction to Mississippi’s bottomland forest. Just past interpretive marker #9, the trail splits to form its south loop. To follow the markers in increasing order, this description turns right and uses the left option as its return route, thus hiking the south loop counterclockwise. Some wet areas will need to be negotiated as you continue through the bottomland forest, which features large numbers of loblolly pine, shortleaf pine, sweetgum, oak, and maple.

A drier section of trail

At 0.55 miles, a closed trail continues straight and leads to an old farm site. As directed by orange metal markers, turn left to continue the loop. The trail alternates between dry and wet areas as it curves left to begin heading first north and then west. Wooden boardwalks get you over the worst of the wet areas.

A wetter section of trail

0.85 miles into the hike, you close the south loop. Turn right twice for the shortest route back to the Visitor Center, or take a short detour back to the lake overlook if you want another chance at waterfowl viewing. On your way out, the short Cypress Cove Boardwalk located just west of the Visitor Center offers a nice walk through inundated bald cypress forest on the west end of Bluff Lake. I had better luck with wildlife viewing on the Cypress Cove Boardwalk, and I saw several coots, mallards, and Canada geese among more common woodland birds while walking the boardwalk.