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Today is July 21, 2019

Outdoors

Hills, Hollows, Wetlands: Nature’s Treasures

By Tony Kinton

Hills, Hollows, Wetlands: Nature’s Treasures

Elevated walkways are common across wet areas on trails at Choctaw Lake. Lakeside Trail is well kept and easily walked. Photo by Tony Kinton.  

Sunrise peeped quietly through emerging leaves and shimmered off placid water. Though spring was birthed and growing, it was yet an infant; the morning chill verified as much. Still, conditions were pleasant, requiring only a light jacket and hat. Jeans, shirt and hiking shoes completed the wardrobe. 

A late March day was unfolding with perfection and promise.

The afternoon before, we had pulled into Choctaw Lake Campground and secured the camper – a basic but functional unit affording all needed accommodations. My sister and brother-in-law were there when we arrived and had already set up. Within the hour, power and water were flowing, the awning was out and wood was stacked in the fire ring. There would be much visiting around that ring the next few evenings.

Choctaw Lake rests within a small portion of the Tombigbee National Forest near Ackerman and Louisville, Mississippi. Access is a straightforward proposition from Highway 15 between these two towns. The lake is within Choctaw Wildlife Management Area (WMA), a 24,314-acre tract managed by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (DWFP). Hunting is a major attractant on the WMA during open seasons, with squirrels, deer, and turkeys drawing the most attention. However, there are a great many other activities of interest around the lake and within the WMA apart from hunting. Simply walking and observing and absorbing are worthy endeavors.

Hiking, in its various degrees of intensity, is a grand pursuit. It is a healthful endeavor, filled with wonder and intrigue. Once in my distant past, a viable hike demanded extensive time afield and perhaps mountaintop treks. I simply had to see what lay beyond that peak at 10,000 feet. But no more. 

Since that distant past there have been two somewhat major heart issues, one rebuilt shoulder, nagging back and hip pain which necessitates injections and ongoing therapy, a bad knee which worsens daily and that simple and sinister culprit ultimately common to us all – age! High peaks have been replaced by low-ground solemnity. Wild places have been replaced by more sedate familiarity. Still, time outdoors is rich and rewarding, perhaps more appreciated now than ever. Trails in Choctaw WMA near or adjacent to Choctaw Lake fit most needs quite well.

A favorite of mine for biking or walking is Lakeside Trail. It, as the name implies, encompasses Choctaw Lake. Approximately 3 miles total, this trail consists of a well-manicured gravel path broken by wooden walkways that span the dam and marshy upper reaches of the lake. For the most part, this trail is flat, twisting through tall pines and decorative hardwoods, these particularly engaging during fall colors. The one hilly portion is brief; there is a covered bench at the top of the steepest hill. We employ this frequently.

One little side path off Lakeside Trail, also gravel covered, leads 100 yards or so into the woods along a small watercourse on the north end of the lake. A bench is there as well. I sat alone on that bench one midmorning of this last trip and watched two wood ducks circle and splash down, unaware of my presence. They paddled about, squealed softly and eventually eased onto a muddy pad where a nesting box was sequestered. I admired and dreamed and gave thanks.

Then there is Cabin Lake Trail, this basically circling Cabin Lake, a much smaller companion of and one that empties into Choctaw Lake. This one is gravel coated and also has elevated wooden walks/bridges that traverse grand little sand ditches and wet areas. Easy walking and beautiful scenery.

For the truly adventurous, the Noxubee Hills Bike Trail, which can also be hiked, begins near Choctaw Lake. It is wooded and occasionally rugged and covers 26 miles of spectacular hills-and-hollows viewing. And the very mention of Noxubee brings to the forefront Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). This is near Brooksville not far from Choctaw Lake/WMA, and covers 48,000 acres of public ground. Noxubee NWR contains both upland and flatwoods, with a tremendous amount of wetland. Wildlife viewing and bird watching can be most impressive on this huge block of real estate.

When to go? Autumn is almost always ideal. Wildlife and the annual color show tend to take the stage during fall. And early spring, with new buds and still-open woodlands, provide enhanced viewing. I especially like this time in the hills and hollows, for the contours are more pronounced. May can also be a productive time to visit any from a tremendous collection of outdoor haunts across the Magnolia State. These are scattered in every direction. The weather is generally agreeable, and summer’s heat is not likely in full swing.

But the prevailing message from all this is to go whenever opportunities arise. Participating in the outdoors, whatever your preferred method, is a thing of great worth. I have written before and still maintain the following sentiment: Experiences are the finest form of wealth. So go have some outdoor experiences. You will be richer for it.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from Amazon.com or his website: www.tonykinton.com.

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