20 years of fun, recreation, progress

Special to the Progress-Times

On May 22, 1993, Whites Creek Lake in Eupora was officially dedicated
and opened to the public with a ceremony presided over by then-Mayor
Pete Fortner Jr.

“Whites Creek is my proudest achievement,” he stated to an attending
crowd of more than 100 people. The Webster Progress-Times reported in
that year’s Nostalgia Edition that the lake was seen as the biggest
“progress” to come to Eupora in the last 50 years.

Whites Creek Lake’s beginnings actually go back to the early 1950s.
According to Fortner, “My daddy (Pete Fortner Sr.) talked about how
this lake could be made when I was young. I took the idea from him
and followed through.”

But Mayor Fortner readily admitted that he had much help.

“I talked to a lot of people around town. We had meetings and formed
a corporation for local investors who were committed to using their
own money to see this project through. Congressman Jamie Whitten and
Sen. Thad Cochran arranged for the funding in Washington from the
Soil and Water Conservation organization.”

Because of the detailed planning, the project was completed in only
six years, from application to completion of construction. This was a
record in efficiency for federal projects like this in Mississippi.

Recreation abounds
Whites Creek Lake was built primarily as a secondary water source for
the city of Eupora. During the 1970s and ’80s, water consumption went
up dramatically because of the booming industrial expansion of that
time. The city’s water wells were shallow and unreliable, so the lake
was seen as an emergency industrial water supply.

Of course, today, most visitors and residents of the lake see and
experience the fishing, skiing and other recreational activities that
abound because of this lake. Since 1998, grants have been obtained to
construct a quarter-mile walking/exercise track with fitness
stations, a covered stage, an emergency boathouse for the Eupora
police and fire departments’ rescue unit, and a floating dock located
at the boat-launching ramp.

Most residents do not realize that Eupora is one of a few designated
canoe trails in Mississippi. Private funds were raised by Shawna
Pounds along with corporate grants to build the playground and
landscaping of the park. In the last few years, the city of Eupora
has added 10 RV sites with pull-throughs, full electrical and water
hookups, and sewer dumps.

Wildlife viewing
In addition to providing an emergency water source and recreational
activities of all sorts, the lake has become a haven for migrating
birds. At any given time of the year, bird enthusiasts can witness
permanent flocks of Canadian geese and paddling ducks. This year
marks the first for a pair of mature bald eagles overflying and
hunting within the lake.

During the seasons, countless types of large ducks, snow and giant
Canadian geese are regular visitors. There have been eyewitness
reports of migrating swans also. Probably the most unusual sight is
the twice-yearly migrations of black wing-tipped pelicans, brown
pelicans and seagulls that make the lake a regular stop on their
migrations.

While recreation and nature are the most obvious attributes of this
lake being built, a boom to construction has taken place as
residential property and construction was also developed.

With more than 45 houses built along the shore of the lake with a
direct investment of more than $7 million, the lake has been an
economic engine, especially with the economic collapse of Eupora’s
manufacturing economy in 1999. And the best thing about this
construction is that it continues with a promise of more homes being
built every year.

Stops flooding
Whites Creek Lake has a capacity of 265,000 cubic yards with
floodwater retaining pool area of 422 acres that drains an area of
almost 4,000 acres. The standing regular pool covers 287 acres. With
an emergency spillway 250 feet wide (50 wider than that at Grenada
Lake), the levee was built to the safest and most rigorous safety
standards. The city of Eupora continues to have the levee inspected
and certified by the state of Mississippi on a regular basis.

As a result, Whites Creek has not overflowed its banks since the lake
was filled in 1992. This is probably the most dramatic effect of the
building of Whites Creek Lake. No house has flooded since the lake
was built and most of the area downstream has been taken out of the
federal flood zone, which opens the land up for more residential and
business development. Many people remember vividly floodwaters
running over Highway 9 with houses on the highway, Old Walthall Road
and East Fox Avenue suffering through many floods.

Dream developed
Today, Whites Creek Lake stands as a testament to Pete Fortner, his
father, and the other citizens of Eupora and Webster County who were
able to see a dream and develop it. Through their sacrifice and
commitment to our community, Eupora and Webster County, can claim one
of the shining accomplishments in Mississippi municipal government.

As Mayor Fortner said in the opening dedication, “It is my hope that
succeeding generations will use and take care of this lake, so all
its citizens will be able to always enjoy it.”

It is up to each of us to make sure that hope stays alive and it is
always remembered.