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A little pool of heaven in the Mississippi Hills region describes Chewalla Lake. This 260-acre reservoir provides a place for a cooling swim, excellent bass fishing and Forest Service campsites beneath a canopy of pines. Located only an hour from both Tupelo and Memphis, TN, the easily accessible swimming beach is often full on hot summer weekends. Families come here to picnic, swim and fish from the fishing pier. Grills, playground and pavilion (by reservation) round out the amenities offered at the day-use area. A boat ramp accommodates smaller boats.
Nestled within the Holly Springs National Forest, Chewalla is the largest of nearly 50 nearby small reservoirs constructed by the Soil Conservation Service over a period of 30 years. Primarily designed for flood control on what was badly-eroded farmland, subsequent soil restoration and tree planting created the lovely landscape making up the 155,000-acre Holly Springs National Forest. Most of the lakes are now used primarily for recreational purposes and support a good warm water fishery. Several hold small campgrounds and hiking trails. Chewalla Lake was formed in 1966 when little Chewalla Creek was dammed. The lake also receives water from underground springs. The entire area around the lake is shaded by loblolly pine, sweet gum and oak. Dogwood and wildflowers blossom in the spring.
The campground is open from April to November; a campground host is usually on-site. Campsites with electricity or water are limited, so early arrival on busy weekends is a necessity. The campground provides hot showers and flush toilets, along with an RV dump station. The lake is shallow and serene, ideal for canoeing or kayaking. Many come to take advantage of the wide range of walking trails in the immediate area.
A four-mile trail completely circles the lake and ventures into the surrounding hills. Only foot traffic is allowed. An ancient Indian mound is located along the shore, reminding visitors that the name Chewalla derives from a Native American word for 'the Supreme Being'. A walkway along the lakeshore also offers great views of the lake and a chance to glimpse native pond and marsh dwelling amphibians, water fowl and the occasional deer. Other areas within the national forest allow ATVs and off-road vehicles, but the area around Chewalla Lake, designated Chewalla Lake Recreation Area, is devoted to foot traffic. A quaint footbridge leads to a small island near the western shoreline.
Fishing is excellent, particularly for smallmouth bass. Because Chewalla Lake was previously overrun with 'trash' fish, a major lake renovation was undertaken in 1998 to improve the fishery. The lake was drained, gravel spawning beds were constructed, and brush fish-attracting structures anchored. Several new 'channels' were built to better direct water flow to some areas of the lake. Then the lake was refilled and stocked. Now, catches of 10 to 12 pound bass are not uncommon. Chewalla Lake also offers catfish, redear sunfish, bluegill and crappie. The lake is no-wake water, so small trolling motors are ideal, along with rowboats, canoes and kayaks. A Mississippi fishing license is required and all current regulations should be checked prior to fishing. And, when the bass aren't striking on Chewalla Lake, other nearby lakes in the area provide more opportunities to fill the angler's limit.
Chewalla Lake is located less than 10 miles from the small historic city of Holly Springs. Visitors wishing a history-filled Southern vacation will find Chewalla Lake the perfect spot to make their base camp. Families with competing interests can serve both an angler's needs and the desires for more luxurious lodgings. They will find Holly Springs the perfect destination. Visitors can arrange to stay at one of the many historic bed & breakfasts located in antebellum homes so prevalent near Holly Springs. Because the Civil War missed Holly Springs completely, many of the beautiful pre-war homes and buildings survived intact and have been lovingly restored by their owners. Many have been turned into inns and guest cottages. There are also several commercial hotels in the area.
Holly Springs offers a variety of attractions for the family. If one tires of meandering the miles of trails within the Holly Springs National Forest, the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center is located just outside of town and provides a 2600-acre nature sanctuary with several walking trails, complete with interpretive signage. The center is dedicated to far more than birds, with wetlands, wildflowers and wildlife holding center stage. Also on-site is the antebellum Davis mansion, home of the two sisters who provided much of the property for the Audubon Center. Tours can be arranged. Holly Springs provides a golf course, and the Holly Springs Motor Sports Park has regularly scheduled motor racing.
Visitors with foresight try to schedule their visit to Holly Springs to coincide with the annual Holly Springs Pilgrimage in April. The Pilgrimage includes several historic mansions and former plantation properties. A more recent addition to the tour is the new Behind the Big House Project. This living history, interpretive tour features actual slave quarters of those behind the glittering facades that kept plantation life operating smoothly. Only in operation for a couple of years, the slave quarters tour has become an immensely popular educational project featuring noted historians who conduct research into the forgotten history of the African-American slaves who lived here. Currently, the tours are free but only available the weekend of the Holly Springs Pilgrimage and include the slave quarters of several historic plantations. Sponsored by Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc, the Project receives continued funding from the Mississippi Development Authority/Tourism Division and the Mississippi Humanities Council.
All of this and more is available with a vacation to Chewalla Lake and nearby Holly Springs. So pack up the fishing gear and load up the kids. Chewalla Lake awaits.
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