Whether to develop Pass Manchac into more than a sleepy fishing village is a question facing the renowned wildlife area an hour’s drive south of the Mississippi-Louisiana line.
The area known simply as Manchac to most people is being eyed by developers who see green money amid the bumpy old roads, bridges and fishing camps, alligators, soft-shell crabs and thin-fried catfish at the swampy enclave 70 miles from McComb in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.
For those longing for a return visit, Middendorff’s, the legendary 75-year-old seafood restaurant at Manchac, still cooks up the thin-fried to perfection, delish as always.
Any development that messes at all with Middendorff’s (new restaurants are included) is a bad idea to me, but at least these grand plans are not for an industrial-type venture. “This needs to be a nature-based opportunity,” Terry Jones, an investor, told Caroline Grueskin, a reporter for the Advocate, Baton Rouge’s daily newspaper.
With a presentation already made by would-be developers to the South Tangipahoa Parish Port Commission, Grueskin also reported that environmentalists have expressed concern that any such idea could harm the pristine “sportsman’s paradise.” I’m predicting they won’t go quietly into the spooky Louisiana night.
Louisiana designated a 40-acre site around Pass Manchac as a state port in 1962 after Interstate-55 was completed through the area. By all accounts, however, there has been little business activity beyond the venerable Middendorff’s. The new plans include adding high rise-condominiums, family homes with boat slips, a boardwalk with additional eateries and kayaking and creative swimming opportunities. Can a golf course be far behind? If so, you’d better watch where you step when hunting for lost balls.
Manchac has for decades been an outlet to some of the best fishing and boating experiences found in the region. I recall the fervor of going crabbing several times with a girlfriend’s family off a railroad trestle many years ago.
I also was loosely involved in a brief shindy inside Middendorff’s about three decades ago. A group of about 40 businessmen and farmers from a certain Delta town boarded a bus early one Sunday to attend a Saints football game. One traveler was an alumnus of the University of Southern Mississippi, which had been soundly beaten soundly the day before by Mississippi State.
The Bulldog types on the bus had kidded the Golden Eagle unmercifully about the game’s results from the time we left. On the return trip to the Delta (we ate at Middendorff’s going and coming), the aggrieved USM fan finally had enough and left his table and slugged one of the MSU types. It ended before any authorities could be summoned.
In its early years Middendorff’s might have seen more of that kind of action because it began as a small bar. The establishment soon earned a reputation for superb seafood and a supreme sense of joie de vivre, and has been an acclaimed food-and-drink institution in that region ever since, with a steady stream of visitors from both states. And the joy of crabbing goes on in Pass Manchac.
Casting Man-chac’s future is not an easy call for the key players involved. Grueskin quoted Tangipahoa Port Commission president Daryl Ferrera:
“(Manchac is) a remote fishing community, but there’s a lot of history there. Do I disrupt that and sacrifice economic development for it, or do I say, economic development is more important, and that is the direction we should go? That’s a huge struggle for me.”
Condos towering over Manchac’s labyrinth of swamps and bayous? I’ll have to see it to believe it.
–Mac Gordon is a part-time resident of McComb. He is a former reporter for The Clarion-Ledger. He can be reached at [email protected]
by Mac Gordon, Gazette Contributing Editor
on July 31, 2018, 1:11 pm