Officials prep for Okhissa opening

Published 5:00 am Friday, October 19, 2007

MEADVILLE – Okhissa Lake in the Homochitto National Forest inFranklin County is scheduled to open Nov. 7, and National ForestService officials offered a preview Thursday.

The 1,075-acre lake is situated three miles south of Bude onHighway 98.

Okhissa Lake was the first lake assisted by Bill Dance SignatureLakes. Bill Dance was actively involved in the planning and designof the lake. Because of his expertise, Okhissa is set to become apremier fishery, forest service officials said. Bill DanceSignature Lakes offers design and consultation services to freshwater fisheries.

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Speaking from a gazebo overlooking the serene lake, ForestSupervisor Tony Dixon said he was “thrilled” that Okhissa isopening.

Dixon said the community was the reason this project got off theground. Though the project was officially launched in 1999, it was55 years of local support that kept the lake project going.

Dixon also discussed the economic boost the park will be to thearea. Dixon, and many others, were quick to state how much supportthe project received from U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.

Okhissa Lake is stocked with bluegill, redear, crappie,threadfin shad, fathead minnows, channel catfish, and largemouthbass. The last shocking test showed impressive fish growth rate,officials said. The largest bass were around five or six pounds,the catfish were three to four pounds, and the bluegills averagedaround one pound.

Though much is finished, lake-related projects are still in theplanning phase.

Bow and primitive weapon hunting will not be in place thisseason, but officials hope to have it opened soon. Tim Reed,district ranger for the Forest Service, said they hope to havefishing tournaments by next spring.

Okhissa Lake is four feet short of full pool. Until it hasreached full pool, estimated around next summer, the designatedswimming and skiing area will be closed.

Presently, Okhissa Lake is for day use only; however, in 2008solicitation for further developments, like campgrounds, will bemade. After that, Reed hopes for a “snowball” effect of moreprojects.

From all sources, $ 24 million has been put into the project.Reed predicts another $7 million will be used to complete alldesigns.

With features such as fishing, boating, picnicking, natureviewing, two double-lane boat ramps, restroom facilities, a gazeboarea for picnics, three gravel parking areas, enough for around 250vehicles, and 39 miles of shoreline ready for use, the Nov. 7opening is expected to be an exciting event for Meadville, Bude andthe surrounding areas. With more projects to come the park willonly become more of a recreational haven for all types of outdoorlovers, officials predict.

Reed stressed the importance of safety. He wants opening day tobe “safe and enjoyable.”

He advised motorists to expect traffic congestion for openingmorning. Reed also said no alcohol will be allowed in the park.There is a $5 fee per vehicle.

While there will be a full management team for opening day,eventually, it will be a self service park, officials said.