I discovered Pipes Lake in Helen McGinnis’ “Hiking Mississippi” book. I knew that McGinnis’ book was not as up-to-date as Johnny Malloy’s guidebook, but I got a copy because I wanted to compare the differences in their accounts and perspectives.
Then, when I got a hankering to take my sons hiking at Homochitto National Forest, I checked out those trails in both books and discovered that McGinnis had a description of a 2.2-mile nature trail around Pipes Lake that Molloy didn’t mention. I was intrigued.
A couple of folks I ran into during the week said they grew up in Franklin and Adams counties and knew about Pipes Lake. These gentlemen had fond memories of fishing and hunting at Pipes Lake and Levees Creek just behind the lake. Their memories made it sound like a wonderful place.
I did some more research and found an extensive write-up in a guidebook by Robert Mohlenbrock titled “This Land: A Guide to Eastern National Forests.” Mohlenbrock describes his trip to Pipes Lake in great detail, even dedicating a couple of pages to three different species of duckweed that grow in the lake. Mohlenbrock describes Pipes Lake as a haven of biological diversity.
What sealed the deal was when I looked to see if anyone had posted photos on the Internet. I found a photo of fall leaves at Pipes Lake that was so colorful and wondrous it looked like a Disney movie!
Then I talked to Homochitto National Forest employees, and they were very discouraging.
“You know we stopped maintaining that area years ago and it’s all overgrown…”
“I don’t know about taking kids there…”
“I don’t even know if there’s still a lake there — the levee might be washed out or the lake might be grown up and silted in by now…”
So I took my dilemma to my outdoor adventure muse, Ernest Herndon. He told me that in his opinion an adventure is usually not worth doing unless he gets dire warnings about it. He further assured me that Pipes Lake used to be a great place to put in a canoe and paddle around, “but crummy fishing.”
That was good enough for me! So we planned to hike and camp for a day at Clear Springs, then stop in to check out Pipes Lake for a few hours on the way back. I’d heard good things about Clear Springs, but I figured Pipes Lake was really going to be the highlight of our trip.
The hiking and camping at Clear Springs were superb. The trails, although confusingly marked, were easy to follow and wonderfully hilly.
We spent an afternoon and a morning hiking the 10-mile Richardson Creek loop, and a clear, cool night of tent camping on top of a hill at the extreme southwest corner of the recreation area. Then we set our sights on Pipes Lake.
First of all, Pipes Lake is remote, like really remote. I’d been to a youth squirrel hunt some years back at Sandy Creek Wildlife Management Area and I thought that was in the midst of nowhere, but this way past that. I followed several different numbered forest roads that started out nicely graded and graveled, but got progressively rougher and muddier.
When we finally found it, I thought we were in the wrong place. Sure, it was overgrown as expected, but not too bad. The real problem was it has been turned into a trash heap. Some numpty had thrown a couch out on the side of the road near the gate and the area had apparently been turned into a party place for socially unconscious teens. The ground was littered with broken Dixie cups and empty beer cans and the trees were painted with illegible graffiti.
I climbed out and took a couple of pictures of the lake and some flowering vines growing in the trees. I saw where part of the 2.2-mile trail circled the lake. It would have still been passable, if we’d wanted to tromp through the trash.
It made me angry — this place that is fond in older peoples’ memories, this place that was supposed to be a natural wonderland, had been abused. I thought about making my sons help me clean it up right then and there, but we didn’t have gloves or trash bags or a trailer to haul off the couch.
Helen McGinnis’ laconic conclusion to her article about Pipes Lake was simply, “It needs a sponsor,” and that was when she was there in 1992. I agree. The area could still be reclaimed and fixed.
Pipes Lake is too remote from McComb for my Scouts to maintain it regularly — but it’s only 22 miles from Natchez if there are any Scout troops or civic groups looking for conservation projects.
Even though it is sad to see a natural area that was fondly remembered by previous generations despoiled for younger generations, it was a good lesson for my kids (and me) about why we preach to the Scouts about “Leave No Trace” and “Tread Lightly.”
As we left, I told my son, “Seeing that should really make you mad.”
“It really does,” replied Quin.
Later that evening I was chatting with Robby Bush, the ranger at Hood Scout Reservation in Hazlehurst. He commented, “You never know until you go.”
Article previously published in the Enterprise Journal