This popular Miss. lake may be getting a conference center and lodge
By Brian Broom
Plans for a conference center and lodge at a southwest Mississippi lake could make it a destination for businesses, tourists and outdoors enthusiasts.
A public-private consortium announced the project at a news conference on Friday for a 200-room lodge, 1,000-person conference center and related amenities on 150 acres of land in the Homochitto National Forest near Okhissa Lake.
The land is expected to be purchased by Scenic Rivers Development Alliance, a coalition of governments in Amite, Franklin, Pike, Walthall and Wilkinson counties.
"In general, we promote natural and economic resources in the five counties," said SRDA Executive Director Joseph Parker. "What we are trying to do is create a destination location.
"It's quality of life. We're trying to attract businesses and industry to the area."
Parker said the attractions don't end with the conference center. Okhissa Lake is well-known for largemouth bass fishing and was designed with the help of longtime popular bass angler and personality Bill Dance.
Golfers can enjoy playing at nearby Percy Quinn State Park. Another local attraction is the Bogue Chitto Water Park. Other outdoor attractions include Clark Creek Natural Area and Ethel Stratton Vance Natural Area.
“This region has some of the best natural and economic assets in the state, but we are sometimes overlooked because of our sparse population,” Parker said. “That’s all about to change dramatically with this project.”
An amendment by Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith to the 2018 Farm Bill made the potential acquisition of the land by SRDA possible.
"Senator Hyde-Smith played a large, important role in this," Parker said. "She was working with her colleagues from different parts of the nation."
According to Parker, the development will be funded through state, federal and private money. Architectural plans and renderings for the project were produced by Jack Allin with the Jackson-based architectural firm of Wier, Boerner and Allin Architects. The plans call for a lodge, conference center, swimming pool, marina, boardwalk and overlook.
In addition to drawing tourism and business to the area, the additions will also be a bonus for the Southwest Mississippi Chess Foundation, an award-winning program in Franklin County that teaches elementary students how to play chess. Jeff Bulington, who heads the program, said it could become a hub for chess tournaments and competitions.
"The main point is having a place where people who are coming in from out of town, out of state, and out of country can stay," Bulington said.
Although plans have been drawn and the wheels have begun moving forward, Parker said a lot of work lies ahead before the center can become reality.
"We're waiting for the feasibility study to be approved by the USDA," Parker said. "There are a lot of moving parts. There are a lot of steps to be completed."