Drive through Fort Massac State Park, and visitors to the 47th annual Fort Massac Encampment may not recognize where they are.
There have been a number of changes to the park in the two years since the event was last held.
“Although we were unable to have the 2020 Encampment, for the first time since the event began, we were still very busy with our day-to-day operations,” said Chris McGinness, Site Superintendent III of FMSP.
A new shower house at the campgrounds was officially opened Aug. 9 with a ribbon cutting conducted by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the state office that oversees the state's parks. The shower house replaces the facility that was built in 1988. It was under construction for much of the last year. The eight-unit facility was made possible through at grant awarded by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity. ADA accessible, the family units include a toilet, sink and shower.
Nestled in the park's campground that consists of 50 campsites and 10 primitive campsites, the shower house is just one of the amenity enhancements taking place there. McGinness noted pads have been poured for the construction of five primitive cabins around the site. The cabins — three on the road going to the river, one beside the shower house and the other at the far end of the campground — will sleep six people each. All will be ADA accessible. “They’re primitive, but they're really nice cabins. We've got them in several parks,” McGinness noted.
A new 28-foot-wide bridge over Massac Creek, featuring a bike/pedestrian lane on both sides, was just completed. The Illinois Department of Transportation oversaw the project.
Also completed are new bathrooms throughout the park — located across the road from the park's visitors center, one between the Hilltop and Riverview shelters and one at the fairgrounds, which didn't have one before.
McGinness noted that rehabilitation of the Fort is on hold at this time. The 1803-era fort, which has been closed since 2010 due to structural issues, was built in 2004 to replace a previous structure.
FMSP is steeped with history and deep roots to the past.
It is believed the site along the Ohio River was first fortified by Indians. As as early as 1654, it was used by DeSoto and his Spaniards to protect themselves from the Indians. The first fort on the site was built in 1757. The site was last used from 1861-62 as a recruiting facility training camp in the early days of the Civil War.
It was 1903 when the Daughters of the American Revolution petitioned the Illinois State legislature to purchase and set aside the site of Fort Massac as a state park. Those 24 acres surrounding the historic fort's original site were dedicated as the state's first park in 1908.
The park’s 113th anniversary will be Nov. 1, 2021.
With its scenic beauty overlooking the mighty Ohio River, FMSP offers a wealth of modern-day outdoor activities for everyone to enjoy.
Surrounded by 1450 acres, FMSP offers opportunities for fishing at the trout pond, hiking, picnicking and camping throughout the year. Four covered picnic shelters are available. Camping at the park is available year round; however, space must be reserved April 1 through Sept. 30, which can be done at www.camp.exploremoreil.com.
The park has a boat ramp, complete with parking areas, drinking water and lighting. The park’s visitors’ center also houses the Fort Massac Museum, which features five full cases of artifacts, in addition to various information panels along with interactive displays, all aimed at informing and educating visitors about the history of the fort, which flew under four flags — the French, the British, the Spanish and the U.S. — beginning in 1757.
What is now the Fort Massac Encampment began in November 1974 as Fort Massac: 1776 — a re-creation of the days when the historic fortress was an important military and trading outpost of the Illinois Country, first for the French, then for the English and finally for the United States of America — to promote awareness of the nation's upcoming bicentennial.
Approximately 9000 people attended that first two-day event, which also coincided with the opening of the first re-constructed fort in 1973, and it was announced similar events of the type would be planned for the park each year. It became the Fort Massac Encampment in 1979. By the event's 20th anniversary in 1993, the event had grown in both vendor participation and attendance, drawing nearly 70,000 visitors. By the time of the 2019 event, the Encampment was steadily drawing 200,000 visitors.
FMSP also hosts Living History weekends through the year. The Saturday event features the Massiac Marines, a group that began in the early 1980s to portray the different groups who lived in the Fort Massac area in the 1750s. The group also hosts a French-Indian War Re-enactment weekend in May.
FMSP also has several playground areas, including one specifically for toddlers at the campground area.
Open much of the year is the Fort Massac Disc Golf Course. The 18-hole course is 6715 feet long, starting at the trout pond, progressing up by the campground, crossing over to go down by the boat ramp, coming around and then through the picnic area adjacent to Fifth Street, going back up to the trout pond.
The Fort Massac Disc Golf Course officially opened in September 2013. While the course is open to the public during park hours, it is closed during FMSP events, such as the annual Encampment in October. To hold a tournament, interested parties have to fill out an activity permit through FMSP and IDNR.
George Rogers Clark Discovery Trail provides bicyclists and hikers the opportunity to take a different look at the park. The 9-mile trail links Metropolis to Brookport utilizing city streets and a 3.6 mile-trek through FMSP. The park's concrete paved trail is ADA accessible.
Parking for trail users is available at two locations within FMSP: the Hickory Nut Trail parking area at the junction of the trail and Belegrade Road; and at the junction of the trail and Strawberry Road. Bike racks and restrooms are in place at both locations.
GRCDT is named in honor of Col. George Rogers Clark, whose statue in the park overlooks the Ohio River. During the Revolutionary War, in 1778-79, Clark led a garrison of fewer than 350 men who prevented the British army from taking the northwest territory.