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Lake Tangipahoa is usually a quiet, unassuming little lake nestled within Percy Quin State Park in Mississippi's Capital-River region. The 554-acre lake belongs to the state and serves as the recreational centerpiece of the very popular state park. But, every once in awhile, even the quietest member of the lake community creates a stir. Lake Tangipahoa did just that in late August of 2012 when excess water from Hurricane Isaac supplied it with more water than the 70-year-old earthen dam could handle. The sudden influx of a huge amount of water from upstream brought the water level up four feet over its usual elevation and began to cause damage to the dam itself. The alert governments of both Mississippi and Louisiana issued evacuation orders for nearly 60,000 people downstream, many of whom weren't even aware the dam existed. There was excitement and disruption all around until state officials managed to reduce water levels by a combination of pumping and breaching a side wall of the dam to allow the water to flow into a nearby wooded area. Within 48 hours, the crisis was past . . .but Lake Tangipahoa is now a household name.
Lake Tangipahoa was created in 1940 when the Civilian Conservation Corps cleared the land for one of Mississippi's first state parks. The lake is strictly recreational. An early dam failure in 1942 resulted in a new, improved dam that was completed in 1945. The dam was beginning to show its age, however, and a major drawdown of the water level was planned for late 2012 to allow for repairs to the dam. Hurricane Isaac forced a change in the scheduled maintenance.
Lake Tangipahoa is formed from the upstream flows of the Tangipahoa River which empties into Lake Pontchartrain. The name of the river is derived from the Native American village name, Tangibao or 'corn gatherers', whose inhabitants were there when French explorers wrote of the region as early as 1683. In the intervening centuries a large number of people have come to live within the river basin, and the river downstream is a popular kayak and canoe trekking location.
Residents and visitors to the McComb, MS area know the lake well. The popular 1700-acre park offers camping for both RV and tent campers, some sites with cable TV hook-ups, a swimming beach, rental cabins with heat and air conditioning, laundry facilities, playgrounds, picnic areas, a swimming pool, camp store, tennis courts and playing fields. The beautiful and challenging Quail Hollow 18-hole public golf course rents golf villas for a golfing holiday. A well-marked eight-mile nature trail circles Lake Tangipahoa and offers excellent wildlife watching and birding opportunities. The park is included on the Mississippi State Parks Interstate 55 Corridor Birding Trail along with a huge list of bird that may be seen there. There is also a 9-unit lodge/motel that overlooks the lake. A marina offers boat launch facilities and sells supplies for anglers and boaters. All types of boating are allowed; the lake is popular for water skiing, jet skiing, tubing, wake boarding, sailing canoeing and kayaking.
Fishing is a big attraction at Lake Tangipahoa. Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill or breem, redear sunfish and channel catfish are stocked regularly. The irregular shoreline and wetland areas offer plenty of spawning beds, while the varying bottom structure allows for a number of favored 'fishing holes' where the big fish lurk. Water depth varies from an average of seven feet to 20 feet near the dam. Spring and fall are likely the most popular times for anglers as the crowds thin out and the fish are more active in the cooler water. A modern fish cleaning station is provided with filet boards. The entire state park is designed to provide all types of recreation to every possible visitor, so reservations may be necessary for campsites on busy weekends and are always a necessity for golf villas, camping cabins and motel rooms.
Lake Tangipahoa is only about 80 miles south of Jackson, and 100 miles north of New Orleans. This makes the lake an easy weekend getaway and adds to its popularity. Those who visit for longer periods of time will find that the nearby small city of McComb offers a bit of everything. Known for its Southern hospitality, McComb offers a full complement of restaurants and evening entertainment venues. A complete railroad museum greets visitors most afternoons and holds a wealth of history for railroad buffs. Children especially enjoy seeing the antique engines and watch the model train layout for hours. McComb is known as "The Camellia City of America" due, in part, to an elderly African-American woman called affectionately Aunt Caroline who once grew beautiful japonica bushes, as camellias were once called, and freely shared her cuttings and plants. So spectacular were her camellias that when Mobile's Bellingrath's Gardens were being established, agents came to McComb and purchased many of her bushes for the gardens. McComb still displays one of the largest assortments of camellias in the South every spring. Adding to the floral display, the city stages an annual lighted azalea trail during spring blooming.
Other activities near Lake Tangipahoa include the Pike County Speedway which is one of the most popular dirt tracks in the mid-South and produces a number of popular events from March through October. About 12 miles east of McComb, the Bogue Chitto River is a popular spot for canoe and tube trips; a rental facility there rents equipment and leads river trips from two to seven hours in length. There is even a water park nearby which provides a campground. And, both Jackson and New Orleans provide plenty of interest to longer-term visitors. There are a variety of lodging choices in McComb, from bed-and-breakfasts to chain hotels. Real estate is often available, but not on Lake Tangipahoa which is surrounded with state land. There's plenty here for every member of the family to enjoy. Visitors in the fall and winter of 2012 will find Lake Tangipahoa severely reduced in size due to dam repairs, but come spring the lake will be back in all its glory.
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