Okhissa Lake still has big plans

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 15, 2008

NATCHEZ — Don’t let the heat fool you, Lake Okhissa is a happening place these days.

Lake Okhissa‘s opening on November 7, 2007, brought almost four decades of work to a climax.

“(The opening) has been really smooth,” Deputy District Ranger Tim Slone said. “We’ve had some weekends where we were so close to capacity we thought we’d have to turn vehicles away, but we haven’t hit it yet.”

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In its short existence, Okhissa Lake has gotten a reputation as a fisherman’s paradise. For that, anglers can thank retired professional tournament angler Bill Dance.

“Basically what he did — along with fisheries biologists that work for the Forestry Service — is they all sat down together and worked on the design features of the lake,” Slone said. “We spent about $3.5 million on those design features.”

Among the design features were more than 600 spawning beds that are used primarily by brim, bass and croppy.

While the lake has been open for several months, there is still plenty of work to be done before the project can be deemed completed.

Only a few weeks ago the rangers opened the north end of the lake for water skiers.

Currently, Okhissa Lake is working on building several bathrooms and a beach area on the north end of the lake.

All-and-all, this year the park will was allotted approximately $1 million to build a bathroom at the north boat ramp, a bathroom at the future beach site and the beach itself.

“Basically, the sandy part of the beach — both above and below the water level — is in place,” Slone said. “But we don’t have any restrooms or sidewalks or anything for accessibility. That’s the part we’re working on now.”

Slone said the bulk of the money allocated for building the restrooms and beach will go to bringing sewer pipes and water and electric lines out to the site.

Also in the works is a campground for tents, trailers, RVs, fifth-wheels and cabins and a marina and lodge, although they’re not expected to be finished for a few years.

“A lot of that is going to depend on the prospectus and how good we are at generating interest,” Slone said. “We’ve got a lot of folks on our list that have said when we put out a prospectus they want a copy.”

Slone said the prospectus is basically a solicitation to private investors and partners that says “hey, here is what we have, this is what we’d like to have in addition to what we have now, here’s the facilities we have in place, this is the infrastructure we have right now.”

“Basically then we’d ask them to present us a business plan as part of their application in response to the prospectus and we’ll give you X-amount of months to respond to it,” Slone said.

The timeline is for camping on the east side of the lake is expected to be a few years because of the steps the park must take to construct the facilities.

According to Slone, fishermen and wildlife enthusiasts have traveled from all over the Southeast to visit the man-made lake, with the bulk of travelers coming from Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas.

The lake is open from 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. and costs just $5 a vehicle.

If you don’t enjoy being out on the water, there is still plenty for you to do.

At Okhissa Lake there is plenty of wildlife to observe and areas to hike.

“We don’t have any developed hiking trails, but we have some roads that aren’t open to vehicular access (that people hike on).”

Among the various species of animals in the area, Slone said there are deer, turkey, beavers and various birds such as great blue herons, eagles, great herons, geese and ducks.