This has been a weird year. A weird weed affected lakes including Okhissa and Dixie Springs. A weird bug bored into lawn mower gas tanks. And a weird cat turned up east of McComb.
Such were some of the top outdoor stories of 2019.
Lake managers around the state struggled with what to do about an invasive Brazilian weed called giant salvinia this year.
At Lake Dixie Springs, the landowners association installed signs in March saying the 100-acre private lake is closed to non-members, with no guest boats or watercraft allowed. Lake residents can launch boats, but if they take one to other waters, they’re expected to clean it and the trailer.
At Okhissa Lake, U.S. Forest Service officials lowered the water level and installed a boom across the south cove to keep salvinia from spreading to the rest of the lake.
At Percy Quin, officials regularly lower the lake 2 to 3 feet in the winter to expose the salvinia, water hyacinth and other species to the cold, which doesn’t eradicate them but does knock them back. The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks also sprayed herbicide at Percy Quin and Okhissa to control the plants.
Beetles attack gas tanks
Plants weren’t the only invaders. A tiny bug made its presence known when it bored holes in plastic gas tanks.
Eugene Cutrer of Osyka found out about the invasive bugs after they destroyed the tank of his zero-turn mower, puncturing it with tiny holes like a blast from a No. 8 shotgun shell.
Cutrer went online and identified his assailants as camphor shot borer beetles, an invasive species that showed up in 1999. The beetles are drawn to the smell of ethanol, which trees emit when stressed or dying. But they can’t differentiate between the scent of ethanol gas and ethanol from trees.
Thee beetles are so attracted to the scent of ethanol gas they’ll bore through plastic tanks — then die when they reach gas instead of sap.
The solution is simple: switch to ethanol-free gas, which is recommended for small engines anyway. Cutrer — who got a new tank from the company — did that and hasn’t had any more trouble.
Civil War cannon ball surfaces
Raylee Graves, 8, and her sister Kenzie, 6, were foraging for bait by the Amite River northwest of Liberty in April when they struck a round metal object that turned out to be a Civil War cannon ball.
Their dad, “Little Les” Graves, carried it carefully to the house and got in touch with experts.
The Clinton police bomb squad sent two experts down to investigate. They immediately identified the object as a cannon ball, evidently from the Civil War. The men placed it in a metal bomb-proof box to take back to headquarters.
Graves hoped they could defuse it and return it to display in the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum of Liberty, but he never heard back from them.
A Civil War battle took place at Liberty, so there would have been troop movements around the county, and it’s possible a cannon ball fell off a wagon or was fired in a skirmish and failed to explode.
Chatawa tree wins contest
This was the fourth year for the McComb Garden Club’s annual Pike County tree contest, and a Chatawa beech tree took the honors.
The question now is whether there will be any more contests.
An American beech on the property of Perry and Elizabeth McKinney won this past May, towering 154 feet with a circumference of 100 inches, or 81⁄3 feet. The tree grows on the bank of the Tangipahoa River and, unlike many beeches, stands straight as a pine.
Each year the garden club chooses a different species, but with contest director Heather Newlon stepping down, it remains to be seen if the club will continue the contest.
Drownings claim three
At least three people drowned in area waters this past summer.
On June 25, longtime Lake Mary area resident Wesley Berry, 66, vanished after setting out with a boatload of supplies headed for his home on flooded Foster Lake. A storm struck around the time he was on the water. Items from his boat were found floating, but he was never found.
On July 4, two McComb teens — Zechariah White, 13, and Laterrius Wilkinson, 19 — drowned in the Bogue Chitto River at Holmesville.
Berry was an experienced boat operator, and the two boys reportedly knew how to swim, so no one knows exactly what happened.
Texas Red rides again
The Franklin County outlaw Texas Red is the subject of a forthcoming book by Don Simonton of Fayette and movie by Travis Mills of Brookhaven.
The two held a public meeting at the Franklin County Courthouse in August to discuss the project.
Texas Red and his partner the Oklahoma Kid operated a juke joint in the Free Woods community in the 1930s. They were rumored to have been involved in a rash of burglaries.
In 1940 a posse showed up at their joint, gunfire erupted, a deputy was killed, and the two men fled. The Oklahoma Kid got away but Texas Red was gunned down after a month-long manhunt.
No one is sure of Red’s real name, but it appears his nickname will live on.
Couples bag big gators
Most couples probably prefer dinner and a movie for date night, but in southwest Mississippi, some couples would rather hunt giant alligators.
During this year’s alligator season, Jeff and Michelle Barnes of Walthall County brought in an 11-foot, 3-inch behemoth in the Old Homochitto River (earlier, Jeff and pals bagged an 11-foot 11-incher).
And double-daters Dwain Brister of Pike County and Angie Walsh Bateman of Liberty teamed up with Chris and Amiee Campbell of Brandon to bring home a 12-foot 51⁄4-inch gator from the upper Pearl River.
Southwest Mississippi got some unusual visitors when Martial and Elisabeth LeBoeuf of France rode their bicycles through en route from northeastern Canada to the tip of South America — and beyond.
The couple, from a small town in France, camped at Ethel Vance Natural Area west of Liberty one night and Osyka the next on their way south. Both are retired from the French army. Martial, 59, was a major in the paratroopers and Elisabeth, 57, was a captain specializing in physical training as well as an expert in orienteering.
They planned to keep pedaling for two or three years and eventually encircle the globe.
Baffled by big cat
Darrell Coon of Highway 44 East, McComb, found an unusually large, wild-looking cat run over near his driveway earlier this month. It was odd enough that Coon took it home, put it in the freezer and contacted the Enterprise-Journal for help in identifying it.
The cat stretched 35 inches from nose to tail, had thick grayish fur, a large frame, a pug nose and a long, bushy tail. There are several varieties of wildcat in North America, and this clearly wasn’t any of them.
The answer turned out to be a Maine Coon Cat, a breed of domestic cat known for its size, which can reach four feet from tip to tip. Coon had been seeing them around for the past three years, which suggests someone in the neighborhood may have had one or more Maine Coon Cats for pets and they went wild.
Will 2020 turn out to be any stranger? Hang on and we’ll find out!