IN KEMPER COUNTY — Long-time Lauderdale County supervisor Ransom McElroy had a dream about having a place where people could go to relax, hunt, fish or just have a good time. He passed away in 1988 before he could see his dream, Timberview Lodge, come to fruition. But he got it started.
Today his daughter, Betty Hopper, owns the 1,000 acres on the northern edge of Kemper County, and leases another 4,000 acres from various corporations. The centerpiece of Timberview Lodge is a five building compound located 25 miles north of Meridian and about three miles west of U.S. 45 (“Instead of taking 498 east to Porterville, just turn west on Oak Grove Road,” said Newton Sharp, Betty’s son, who’s more or less the overall manager).
The main attraction of McElroy’s dream is, of course, hunting in a rustic setting. Guests can stay in either the “Ridge House,” a five room motel-like facility with a multi-purpose room that has a full kitchen, or the “Guest House,” a multi-room structure that also has a full kitchen and can hold as many as 18 people. Then there’s the lodge itself, built in 1993, that can feed up to 200 people in two large rooms.
Delicious food in a niche market
The food is prepared by Betty Hopper and it draws raves from Gerald Mills, who’s been manager of Meridian’s east central office of the Mississippi Development Authority for 17 years.
“Mrs. Hopper is a great cook,” he said. “The food is consistently good. And she handled a meeting of about 60 people the other night in about 30 minutes.”
Mills believes that this niche market has been overlooked and taken for granted in Mississippi. “Hunting is a major tourist attraction in other states such as Colorado and Wyoming,” he said. “Places like (Timberview Lodge) provide a different type tourism that rural areas can offer where people can relax in a wonderful setting and get out of the rat race. And it’s a great way to utilize our land other than farming.”
And Mills said he’s working an economic development project from a Mid-western city that is the result of a favorable East Mississippi hunting experience.
Timberview Lodge does attract hunters from afar. According to Newton Sharp, the primary source of his customers is from the Northeast and Midwest. He called off the names of states ranging from Massachusetts to Wisconsin and said he’s even hosted hunters from Japan and Ireland.
“It’s really a select group we cater to,” Sharp said.
A variety of activities
A three-day bow hunt for deer costs $700 per person including lodging, meals and transportation to the strategically located shoot houses. There are also black powder and rifle hunts costing up to $1,000. Then there are the five-day prices that go from $1,000 to $1,400. No bucks can be harvested that have less than six points and there are limits on each hunt. And if you’re interested in turkey hunting, that’s $300 per day inclusive with an extra $100 if a guide is required.
Hunters start early with a continental breakfast, are taken to the shoot house, picked up for a sumptuous 10:30 a.m. brunch, hunt the rest of the day and end the day with a festive dinner, all cooked by the renowned chef, Betty Hopper.
Debbie Sharp, Betty’s daughter in law, is in charge of booking the hunts and the myriad of other events that take place in the compound. She and her husband, Chris, and their two children live in a home next door to the lodge.
“We are booked solid (with deer hunters) in January, and turkey season is already full,” she said. “We had an ad in Buckmaster magazine, but we canceled it because we already had more customers than we could handle.” And she wants it clearly understood that there are no “cabins” on the grounds. “We get those requests all the time,” she said.
Then there are the other events and business.
TVA officials are putting in a power generation plant nearby and have the Ridge House booked through next summer. As usual, there will be at least 25 Christmas parties and there are family reunions and church retreats throughout the year.
“One family has booked us forever,” Debbie said. “And there are five couples that come every year to go quail hunting about 30 miles away.”
Some for no apparent reason
The other facilities at Timberview lend themselves to those friendly gatherings. There’s a large swimming pool that hosts birthday parties and a pond stocked with bream, catfish and bass. And 4-H clubbers often
bring their own horses for trail rides.
The Guest House offers a front porch equipped with rocking chairs where Oak Grove Road and its occasional traffic can be viewed. Then the Ridge House has a barbecue grill and picnic benches overlooking the property.
Most of all, it’s just peaceful. So it’s easy to understand why, as Newton said, “Some people come here for no apparent reason.”
And Rufe, a friendly Australian Sheep Dog, greets all visitors with his wagging bob-tail. He wandered up about 12 years ago and decided to stay.
Competition and some big decisions
As for competition, Newton observed, “If they want to come in, the water’s fine, but there are very few facilities like we have.” He said Timberview and the McKenna Ranch near Pachuta share customers when there are overflow crowds.
In this family operation — Ike, Betty’s husband is the hunt coordinator, and all of them pitch in on large parties — some big decisions are coming up. Newton is president of McElroy Electric Co., a thriving business with projects as far away as Memphis, so as Debbie said, “Newton helps (at Timberview) when he can.” But Newton foresees becoming full time at the lodge within about two years when his mother and Ike completely retire.
So Ransom McElroy would be proud of his dream that came to life. His family has been true to his vision and as grandson Newton said, “We make a profit, but we’re not in it to make a killing.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Bill Johnson Jr. at email@example.com or (601) 485-7046.