A delightful dive into the Tri Lakes

Sardis Lake at daybreakA white-tailed doe, still and beautiful, gazes through the dappled trees. A fox disappears into his den.  A bald eagle soars overhead, eyeing the bass and crappie below, slender elusive shadows darting beneath the water's brilliant blue sheen. A serene paradise — hard to believe it owes its existence to a raging beast.

Sardis. Enid. Grenada. For millions of visitors every year, those three names are near magical passwords, evoking blue skies and blue waters, thriving wildlife and natural serenity…worlds where even the oldest are young once again, filled with childlike wonder and alive to all the beauty, excitement and delight that nature offers. Perhaps more to the point, for the millions who have visited the Tri Lakes, those three names — Sardis, Enid and Grenada — equal three important letters:  F…U…N.

As you relax in a bass boat on Enid Lake under a cloudless sky…as you dive into the cold blue waters of Enid's Long Branch swimming beach…watch as the herons stride lightly across the shallows at Grenada Lake's Haserway Wetlands…listen to the symphony of tree frogs and crickets as the moon rises over Sardis Lake's Clear Creek campground…it's easy to feel that the Tri Lakes are places of timeless enchantment.

And yet it was only eighty years ago that the idea for these man-made wonders was even considered, after a ravenous rampaging beast escaped its confines to swallow 27,000 square miles of land — more than 16 million acres — destroying $400 million in property and killing 246 people in seven states.

By allowing visitors to commune at "I-level" with boatloads of natural splendor and fun, the Tri Lakes rescue a lot of souls from the deadening effects of modern day life. By serving as vital flood control for the mighty Mississippi River, they also save a lot of lives. In fact, it took a catastrophe to bring them into being.

A rising tide raises an innovative idea.

1927 MS River floodWhen the 1927 Mississippi River flood submerged the Mississippi Delta as well as millions of acres in surrounding states, it not only caused untold suffering and death, it also changed the face of America, spurring a large black migration from the South in general (the Delta in particular), shifting voter patterns and leaving the nation faced with an urgent question: How can we avoid another disaster?

The answer came in the federal Flood Control Act of 1936, which authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct four dams with impoundment lakes in North Mississippi, three of them stacked like stair steps along the Hills Highway (now Interstate 55). Construction on the first of the dams at Sardis began immediately, with a crew of thousands using mules and brush hooks, crosscut saws, axes, and a lot of sweat to clear 14 miles along the Little Tallahatchie River. While clearing methods were primitive, the dam, nearly 100 feet high, was filled hydraulically with earth dredged from a site below, making it one of the largest earth-filled dams in the nation. Operational by 1940, Sardis Dam and Sardis Lake, with its more than 30,000-acre recreational pool was an instant hit with sportsmen, fishermen and nature enthusiasts. William Faulkner, whose short story Old Man was inspired by the 1927 flood, became a Sardis regular, taking to its waters on his sailboat and on a houseboat he built with friends.

Construction on Enid Lake to the south was begun in 1947 and completed in 1952, extending 18 miles up the Yocona River Valley, spreading out 28,000 acres, with 220 miles of shoreline. Finally, in 1954, the Grenada Dam and Lake on the Yalobusha River became operational, adding another recreational pool of approximately 35,000 acres.

Where man and nature had once lived in wary co-existence, with man often seeking total domination, the Tri Lakes inaugurated a new era of preservation and habitat in the Mississippi Hills. Today, the Tri Lakes aren't just saving lives and property, they aren't just saving people's sanity-they're also saving the world, one animal at a time, as you'll discover when you take to the lakes yourself.

Eagles gather at Sardis.

American EagleSummertime is naturally a prime time to enjoy Sardis Lake, with 474 picnic sites, 514 campsites, 27 boat ramps and 6 swimming beaches. Sardis campsites give you the option of either primitive campsites or Class A sites offering water and electrical hookups. Roughing it even with water and electric sound too rough? At the adjacent John Kyle State Park there's also a lodge, cabins, an indoor sports gym, tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course and amphitheatre.

Come winter, Sardis is still a real hot spot, at least when it comes to high flyers. Each January, Sardis Park Rangers with the help of volunteers conduct the annual mid-winter bald eagle survey. Grab a coat and hat for this exhilarating spy mission. And while you're at it, bring along your old Christmas tree for another joint project between volunteers and the Corps of Engineers, to deck the deep with boughs of evergreen for new and improved fish habitats.

Then come spring, it's time to head to Enid Lake where the Earth takes center stage.

Earth has its Day at Enid.

Enid Environmental Awareness DayEnid Lake's Environmental Awareness Day, held on Earth Day, is a time when rangers and school groups get together to discuss a variety of issues, from land use to forestry to wildlife. Enid also sponsors Habitat Day, when volunteers and rangers use discarded cedar trees to create fish shelters; in 2006 more than 150 volunteers helped place 665 cedar shelters throughout the lake. These shelters should help Enid retain its world-class status with sports fisherman, as the holder of the world record for short-nose gar at 5.83 pounds and white crappie at 5.3 pounds.

Fishing is just one of the many recreational choices at Enid. Hunting, swimming, hiking and camping are also part of the fun, with 231 picnic sites, 368 campsites, 13 boat ramps and 5 swimming beaches, lots of hiking and even equestrian trails. So dive in…or just stand back and watch-bird watch, that is. The Lake manages hundreds of acres planted in grain, millet, peas and sunflowers, with more acreage of seasonally flooded bottomlands, providing a rich habitat for a diverse population of resident and migratory birds. A special treat: bald eagles' nests.

Further south, the habitats at Grenada Lake are also for the birds-as well as the deer, foxes, bobcats, beavers, rabbits and other small critters. Oh, and humans find it pretty terrific there, too.

Wildlife Unlimited at Grenada.

Ducks at GrenadaAs home to the nation's first public use wetlands demonstration area at the 330-acre Haserway Wetlands, Grenada Lake has led the way in preservation and conservation with a unique partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited, local businesses and the Corps of Engineers. The Wetlands' 1 ½ -mile interpretive trail takes you over bridges and onto observation decks for an intimate experience of a habitat seductive in its natural beauty and teeming with diversity.

There are three other wildlife management areas at Grenada Lake where the only thing you're allowed to bag are great photos, but at the Quails Unlimited Demonstration Area, a cooperative between the Corps of Engineers and the Grenada County Chapter of Quails Unlimited, you can come to observe proper quail management and bring along your dog for training.

Dog won't hunt? Don't worry; there are plenty of other hiking trails around Grenada Lake. Satisfy your inner jock at the Lost Bluff trail where hanging ropes allow you to pull yourself to the top of the bluffs. Before you leave-or before you start-be sure to visit the Grenada Lake visitor center where a theatre presentation and interactive exhibits give you the "in depth" Lake story on everything from flood control to Native American artifacts to Civil War history. Get hands-on with the 150-gallon aquarium to test your knowledge of the local finned population. After learning about Grenada's part in the Civil War at the visitor center, you'll want to check out the restored Confederate fortifications, including three cannon, located near the dam.

Grenada is also a great place to picnic, boat, swim or camp, with 254 picnic sites, 300 campsites, 16 boat ramps and 6 swimming beaches. And if you like to hit the road in your RV, you'll find your hookup at the adjacent Hugh White State Park, where you can also make the roundtrip trek to the top of Little Mountain, 485 feet high, for a truly elevating experience.

Saving lives, saving sanity, the Tri Lakes are waiting, and the fish are biting. Why not save your campsite today? If you like primitive camping, you don't even have to make a reservation; it's first come, first serve with no fee required.

See you — and the wildlife — there.


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