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Feeding America's families is just one of the quiet duties of Success Lake in California's fertile Central Valley region. Since the Tule River was dammed in 1961 just outside Porterville, Success Lake has stored water for release to the valley farms that grow grapes, citrus, nuts, olives, apricots, plums and that raise dairy cattle. The lake also acts as a reservoir to store excess spring run-off from the nearby Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains, thus avoiding flooding downstream. Since 1989, the Success Dam has also been generating electrical power. All of this occurs in the background as campers, boaters, fishermen and wildlife lovers come to enjoy the expanse of water. Success Lake is the perfect example of putting water to work to serve multiple needs.
The United States Army Corps of Engineers does an exceptionally good job of assuring public recreation at the lakes they create. Success Lake offers two separate camping areas. The Tule Campground provides sites with electricity, grills, dump station, restrooms, showers, playground and boat launch. Campfire programs are presented here at the amphitheater on Saturdays throughout the summer months. These campsites are so popular that reservations are recommended. Rocky Hill Campground offers only non-electric sites, but has another boat launch ramp and a picnic area. Day-use Bartlett Park has picnic shelters and a playground. All three sites provide a lovely view of the lake against a backdrop of the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills. There are no designated beach areas, but informal swim areas are located nearby.
A 1,499-acre wildlife refuge protects a portion of the northwest shoreline and is considered to be one of the best bird-watching sites in Tulare County. American pelicans and Canada geese are often seen on the lake, while mallards, grebes and coots shelter closer to the shore. Bald eagles soar over the lake, while migratory shorebirds wade in the shallows. Wetlands along the shoreline provide habitat for herons, egrets and kingfishers. The surrounding grasslands and pothole ponds are a fine place to view blacktail deer, California quail, cottontails and jackrabbits. Some areas are open for hunting in season. Trails make access to the wildlife area easy for hikers and add considerably to the natural experience.
Boating is a favorite activity at Lake Success. All types of watercraft are allowed, so on hot summer weekends the waters are a beehive of activity with water skiers, jet-skiers, power-boaters and sailboats sharing space with fishing boats, canoes and kayaks. A 5 mph boat speed limit is imposed from dusk to dawn, and water skiing and jet-skiing are forbidden during those hours. The quiet waters of the many coves along the irregular shoreline make canoeing and kayaking especially popular. The lake is considered one of the best lakes in the Valley for largemouth bass, and tournaments are often held here. The bass aren't usually lunkers but are plentiful. In addition, bluegills, crappie, channel catfish and occasional trout are caught. Until recently, a floating marina was available on Success Lake. Due to a safety-imposed drawdown of the water levels, the marina was moved to another lake. The lake has since been refilled as the dam has passed all inspections, but the marina has not yet been replaced.
Success Lake is only eight miles from Porterville, so camping supplies are never far away. Porterville is also the location of the Sequoia National Forest headquarters. The Southern Sequoia National Monument area is just a few miles beyond Success Lake. Although there is primitive camping available within the National Forest, the lake can offer improved campsites as a base camp for forays into the 'big trees'. The City of Porterville holds a variety of sights of interest to visitors, including the historic Main Street with a wide variety of shops, galleries and restaurants. The Porterville Historical Museum holds artifacts of both the miner-pioneers who settled the area and the Yokuts Indians. Historically significant Zalud House Museum is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The arts are well represented through the Porterville Multicultural Art Center and the Barn Theater. Throughout the year, Porterville hosts a Cinco de Mayo Celebration, a local fair, and a community festival.
Success Lake faced an uncertain future in 1999 when surveys indicated that Success Dam might fail in an earthquake. The lake level was drawn down to 28,000-acre-feet in 2004, contributing to the loss of the marina and seriously interfering with water recreation. Later study proved those fears to be unfounded, and the reservoir has since been refilled to 65,000* acre feet. The public is slowly starting to realize that Lake Success is back in all its glory. There are hopes that another marina will soon fill the gap left by the loss of dock space and fishing bait and supplies. Until that time, the lake likely will get a bit lighter boating use. There is no real estate available directly along the shoreline, although some properties overlook the lake and its buffer zone of public property. Real estate can be found away from the lake, and plenty of alternative lodgings are available in the area, from motels to cabins, bed-and-breakfasts and private rentals. So grab the fishing tackle and the binoculars, and come spend some time at Success Lake.
*The reservoir can hold up to 82,300 acre-feet of water, but the normal level is set at 65,000 acre-feet.
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