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Where only visionaries dare to tread

Most people look at the world around them pragmatically. A small few, however, look at the world through some kind of special filter, possessed by just a few. That filter gives them an ability to see possibility where others just see reality.

Organizers of a plan to construct a state-of-the-art lodge and conference center in rural Franklin County unveiled a portion of their plan.

The pragmatists among us might look at the pretty pictures and say, “That will never happen. Why would anyone come to the middle of nowhere in Franklin County?”

Such skepticism misses a key thing — people with real vision are leading the project.

Never underestimate the power of people with vision and drive. They’re unstoppable.

The same folks, approximately two decades ago, successfully lobbied to create a lake in the middle of the Homochitto National Forest.

At the time that idea was thought of as crazy, too.

How on the Earth was anyone going to convince the U.S. Forest Service that it should allow more than 1,000 acres of federal land to be flooded so people could fish?

Most people looked and simply saw trees. Those with vision saw a beautiful lake and a chance to make something special to help improve the economy of the area.

After years of work to lobby, convince and cajole, the project was officially launched in 1999.

I walked the grounds with an official with the U.S. Forest Service just after the announcement and recall thinking how massive of a project it was. I couldn’t “see” what developers did. To me it was just some woods, no different than thousands of other acres in the area. Fortunately, others could see what I couldn’t.

Work began on construction of an earthen dam and in 2004 the valve was closed on the dam and water slowly began to fill in the gaps in the picture only those with vision could see.

Lake Okhissa officially opened in November 2007. The result of that early vision was the creation of a truly beautiful lake, more than 1,000 acres in size.

After the massive initial undertaking, the hope was the lake’s beauty would naturally attract help for the second phase.

Developers, it was believed, would partner with the U.S. Forest Service somehow to develop the lake into an amazing destination. That development never came to fruition.

My hunch is that the failure of developers to plant seeds there was rooted in a few problems. First, few private developers have the fortitude to work a big project with the strings that invariably come with having government as a partner.

Second, by mid 2008, the economy was already showing some signs of weakness and by the end of that year, the stock market had quite literally jumped off the pier.

Flash forward 10 years and today might seem like a great time to make something happen at the lake. Lord knows Southwest Mississippi could use a shot in the economic arm and creation of an enormous conference center and modern, 200-room lodge would certainly lay the groundwork for that to happen.

The Scenic Rivers Development Alliance is driving the project.

SRDA is a group of local governments in five counties — interestingly Adams County isn’t a participant yet — with the aim of pooling the group’s resources to promote outdoor activities in our corner of the state.

The group still needs money — and lots of it — to make construction of the lodge and conference center a reality.

It may take the group some time, but chances are good they’ll succeed.

Remember, these same visionaries carved a beautiful lake out of timberland in the middle of nowhere. Don’t bet against them in accomplishing their next goal.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.