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Tribute To Millwood

By Dale Gathright, Jr., 01/4/22 1:12 AM

In 2016, the 50th anniversary of Millwood Lake was celebrated with a program at what my late friend and retired Millwood Lake employee and Columbus area resident Dornell Trotter referred to as the “Dedication Site” on the Hempstead County side of the dam on Highway 32. Making remarks as part of an essay contest was Saratoga resident and Ashdown High School student Christie Sain, daughter of Tommy & Mistie Sain. Christie studied at Northwestern State University in Louisiana and is finishing her Master of Occupational Therapy at LSU Health Shreveport School of Allied Health Professions. The image was captured by Ronda Pounds with Ashdown Public Schools.-Dale Gathright, Jr.
What Millwood Means to Me
By: Christie Sain
Millwood has always been a part of my life. I have many memories of birthday parties, family reunions, fishing with my grandma, and alligator watching off a party barge. Many people can’t say that they learned how to ride their bike in a park at Millwood. Although I have made these great childhood memories, I know my link to the lake goes deeper than that.
During the 1950’s on the fourth of July of every year it was a custom for the enormous McJunkins family to go down to the river and spend the day fishing, swimming, and cooking by the water. There were fishing and hunting camps there that allowed people to stay overnight. Recreation was a way of life then and now. In my grandma’s words, “It doesn’t get any better than drinking tea and eating fish caught and cooked on the side of the river bank.”
However recreation was not the only use of this area. Before the dam was built many people in Saratoga had cows and ran their cattle free range in the bottoms where the lake is now. My great grandfather, Clayburn McJunkins was one of these cattlemen. At this time this land was a dense forest of trees and the river ran through it. The only way into some parts of the land was by horseback. During times of flooding, many of the men from town would ride down on horses and bring the cattle out until the water went back down. You can only imagine the difficulty of managing livestock in this situation. There was no highway, only a dirt road that went past the ridge in Saratoga. Ashdown at that time was like a foreign country to Saratoga. The only way to get to there was through Ben Lomond which was a long way around. Most people of Saratoga did business in Nashville or Hope due to not having a road to travel easily.
As the dam was being built, people from Saratoga watched eagerly as the dirt work was completed. A project of this size was unimaginable in this time. It was quite a historic event for that small town. In 1966, with the completion of the Dam the Saratoga community didn’t realize how much their lives would change. They could no longer run cattle in the bottoms but they adjusted. For the first time my family could drive straight to Ashdown from Saratoga. Now a busy highway takes the place of the dirt road that once went to the river.
After all these years the dam still amazes people by its strength and purpose. During tremendous floods it has prevented so much damage that could have happened but it didn’t. I can remember my father going down to the spillway at least once a day to see how high the water was. It was really shocking to realize that much water could be held back and how powerful the water really was. If we didn’t have the dam during the floods, people from all over would have been cut off from work, hospitals, and our loved ones. In other words it provided a bridge to civilization during trying times.
When the sun is setting and not even a ripple is on the water, you feel a certain serene tranquility as you drive across the spillway. It’s not uncommon to see the majestic bald eagle gliding along the shore to a lone tree. In the fall you can’t imagine the colors on the bluff. It’s like a painter has took his brush and hand painted each tree. Even though the scenery is amazing, that is not most important to me. Millwood Dam is my bridge to home and always will be.