River Lifestyle boost recreation
IUKA – Pickwick Lake and its Tennessee River sisters along Mississippi shores – Yellow Creek, Indian Creek, Eastport, Bear Creek and Mill Creek – are powerful attractions for water and outdoor enthusiasts.
This holiday weekend saw many permanent residents of Pickwick Lake communities, as well as summer residents, weekenders, campers and day visitors, enjoying the wide variety of diversions the area has to offer.
Retired entrepreneur Jim Bennett, who sold yachts from his dealership on Highway 25 in the Aqua Yacht Harbor for 42 years, is among the lakeshore residents who love the river lifestyle.
“I grew up in New Albany and went to Ole Miss, but I’ve been at Pickwick ever since,” Bennett said.
Bennett’s love of the water came at an early age at Darden Lake, between New Albany and Oxford, where his family had a cabin. There he became a champion water-skier, on the water at least three hours a day. At age 12 he bought his first boat.
“My payment was $39 a month,” he said with a smile. “I thought I was doing it on my own, but I found out later my mom had gone to the bank and signed a note for me.”
Only a few years later, at age 15, his effort to buy another boat was turned down by the seller because of his age. Perhaps it was then, he said, that the desire to become a boat dealer himself was born.
Salesmanship was probably in his blood, Bennett said, since his mother, Nell Ligon, owned Two Sisters dress shop in New Albany for 50 years, closing the store when she was 80.
“I think that’s where I got my salesmanship from,” he said. “I played football and baseball at Ole Miss and have always been a serious competitor. I felt like if you really wanted to sell and people wanted to buy, if you treated them right you would be a success.”
Bennett opened his business in Pickwick in 1968, selling yachts and large boats, while another dealership sold pontoons and ski boats. The business climate was good, because banks had started financing boat sales like they did cars.
“I was blessed, recognized as one of the top dealerships in the nation,” Bennett said. “I worked hard, but I’m enjoying my retirement now. The things I miss are the people I worked with, and with my competitive nature, not having to use my competitive skills.”
On any given day he can now be found out enjoying the water on his 30-foot JC pontoon boat, or on a personal watercraft.
Through the years he’s gotten to know most of his fellow riverfront neighbors and thoroughly appreciates the lifestyle he continues to enjoy, and the wonderful people he’s met through the years.
“Pickwick is one of the most beautiful places there is,” Bennett said. “I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the generations of families that I’ve sold to, first the grandfather, then the son, and now the grandchildren are coming along and ready to buy boats themselves.”
Bennett’s home is on McKinley Point, at the mouth of a branch of Pickwick Lake known as Yellow Creek, also the site of Grand Harbor Condominiums and Marina. While the area must be accessed through Counce, Tennessee, it is actually a part of Tishomingo County.
Farther east along the Tennessee River at the entrance to the Bear Creek branch lies Eastport, north of Iuka.
There, Collierville, Tennessee, resident Mike Donovan has a weekend cabin getaway where he’s often joined by his extended family, as he was for this Fourth of July holiday weekend.
With his twin brother, Mitchell Donovan, two sisters and their spouses – Donna and Frank Pendzich of Germany and Cathy and Jeff Strange of Louisville, Kentucky – Mike Donovan’s 14-year-old granddaughter, Olivia Donovan of Memphis, and her friend Audrey Ford, 14, of Memphis, planned a weekend of outdoor fun and activities on the water.
“I come every weekend and family members come when they can,” said Mike Donovan, who bought the lakefront site 14 years ago. “I enjoy my winters here as much as summer.”
The weekend at the lake is the first stop for the Pendzichs on a three-week visit to the United States, a trip they make about every two years since they’ve lived abroad. Donna thoroughly enjoys the outdoors and being on the water, and Frank likes to fish.
Cathy and Jeff Strange are big hikers, but this year she’s determined to try her hand at water-skiing.
Mitchell Donovan’s wife, children and spouses and grandchildren were planning to join them during the weekend as well, and they would be in the water, on the water, swimming, skiing, tubing and more.
Families looking for occasional vacation or weekend getaways using recreational vehicles find many campground accommodations around and near Pickwick.
One of the most popular is J.P. Coleman State Park, which surrounds Indian Creek and lies between Yellow Creek and Eastport.
Mitchell and Patricia Robinson of Mantachie, with 8-year-old grandson Tanner Boutwell, spent last week with their RV at the park, boating, kneeboarding, skiing and generally enjoying the outdoor amenities the park has to offer.
“We’ve come for a week every Fourth of July for the past three years,” Mitchell Robinson said. “It’s a great atmosphere with the woods, the lake, and meeting new people from all over the United States. This week we’ve met people from Chicago and Texas, and it’s been a great time.”
Among other RV campers were vehicles displaying tags from other nearby Mississippi counties, including Tippah, Lee, Lafayette, Monroe, Alcorn and Itawamba.
“Our daughter was here for the day with the 15-month-old grandbaby, and it’s wonderful seeing them happy and making memories,” Patricia Robinson said.
Among those memories for Tanner was learning to kneeboard, being towed behind his granddad’s boat while kneeling on a surf-type board and secured with straps.
“We’re going to the fireworks at Pickwick Landing Friday night,” said Tanner, who earlier in the week was expecting to see the Fourth of July spectacular from the water for the first time.
Todd Witt of Corinth has been a fishing guide on Pickwick Lake and other nearby lakes for the past 16 years, and he says there’s no better fishing to be found for smallmouth bass.
“This lake is world-renowned for smallmouth bass, which is the biggest draw, but there are largemouth bass too,” Witt said.
What makes bass fishing so productive at Pickwick is the bait fish.
“This is the northernmost significant body of water for threadfin shad, a primary bait fish for all species of bass and a reason for such quality of smallmouth bass fishing,” Witt said.
His business, Todd Witt’s Pro Guide Service, books full-day – eight or nine hours – or half-day fishing outings, and he also books large groups in collaboration with other guides.
“We can provide everything in the latest equipment,” he said. “All they need to do is show up, but they can bring their own equipment if they like. We cater to beginners, kids or the most experienced, and they get a great day of fishing on a scenic lake that is extraordinary, an attraction in itself that is breathtaking.”
Restaurants around Pickwick with a reputation for a great dining experience abound – Café St. Clair, Top O’ the River, The Outpost Pickwick Dam, Rib Shack, Fillin’ Station Grille, Coyote Grill and more.
A particular specialty on the menu – smoked catfish – gives Pickwick Catfish Farm a unique place in the array of culinary offerings.
“This month, July, is our 40th anniversary year,” said owner Pamela Goese. “We’re famous for smoked catfish and ship it all over the country. It’s been on The Food Network and featured in every food book you can imagine.”
Among other restaurant specialties are Cajun shrimp boil, homemade smoked barbecue ribs, amazing frog legs with spicy “hopping” sauce.
“We make everything from scratch,” Goese said. “Even the cole slaw is grated by us.”
All the attractions that the Pickwick area has to offer is bringing more and more people back for recreational visits and revitalizing real estate sales that saw a decline during the recent economic recession, former businessman Bennett said.
“Pickwick is developing and the market has come back,” he said. “I see house sales have picked up tremendously.”
Other points of interest:
Many other Pickwick attractions are available to people with a wide variety of interests:
• Tishomingo County Tourism: www.tishomingofunhere.org
• Alcorn County Tourism: www.corinth.net
• Hardin County Tourism: www.tourhardincounty.org
• J.P. Coleman State Park, Iuka, Mississippi: (662) 423-6515
• Pickwick Landing State Park, Counce, Tennessee: www.tnstateparks.com
• Todd Witt’s Pro Guide Service: email@example.com or (662) 415-3040
• Golf: Pickwick Landing State Park, 18 holes, www.tngolftrail.net; Fox Chase Golf Course, 9 holes
• Special events: World Championship Catfishing, July 12, Pickwick Landing State Park; Darryl Worley’s Tennessee River Run, Aug. 9, downtown Savannah, Tennessee
• Eagle spotting: Along the shores of Pickwick Lake; a pair of nesting eagles at Shiloh National Military Park
• Wedding, birthdays, meetings and other special event venues: The Plantation at Pickwick, (731) 607-2977 or (901) 550-1892; Pickwick Landing State Park; The Lodge, www.gograndharbor.com
• Nearby: Shiloh National Military Park; Historic Corinth; Historic Savannah, Tennessee
• The Historic Botel, Savannah, Tennessee, www.thehistoricbotel.com