A couple of things caught my attention during the past week that gave me mixed feelings of sadness and hope.

Both have a connection to the past and a sort of nostalgic, historic character. And both represent the potential of loss or gain.

Liquid landmark falls prey to vandals

Being a fan of outdoor activities of many types, it stands to reason that I’m quite familiar with Noblett Lake.

For those of you less familiar, Noblett Lake is a 26-acre body of water created by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940 that lies behind a small concrete dam on United States Forest Service land in northeastern Douglas County, south of Willow Springs.

The setting is beautiful; the surrounding Ozarks landscape is heavily forested and highlighted by bluffs, ridges and hilltops.

My dogs and I have many times enjoyed walking the trail system adjacent to the lake, and simply driving through the stands of old pines on the access road to the Noblett Recreation Area invokes that off-the-beaten-path feeling that I can never seem to get enough of.

Basically, this is one of those places that’s worth experiencing, any time of year.

So when I started seeing and hearing reports about Noblett Lake being drained by vandals who somehow opened a gate in the dam that supposedly required a special tool, my reaction wasn’t pleasant. Horror, anger, amazement, sorrow – my feelings pretty much covered every possible base. And viewing photos of the aftermath that were published in a local newspaper along with a story about the incident more or less made my stomach turn.

The questions are inevitable.

Why? How? And vandals did this before in 1990? What the heck?

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Anyway, one of the photos I particularly noticed was taken several decades ago when Noblett Lake was apparently an even better place to visit. It depicted people lounging around on a grassy area adjacent to the water, with a sandy strip of beach forming the border at the lake’s edge and many other people swimming.

Before the vandals did their deed, the recent version of Noblett Lake had tall, thick weeds growing in most places around it and could not really have been called a great location to swim. The recreation area includes a nice, grassy picnic area, with tables, covered areas and bathrooms, but no beach.

Now that the lake is a waterless one, district ranger Jenny Farenbaugh and others in the position of determining what comes next have a situation on their hands that could actually have some positive ramifications. They may have indirectly been given an opportunity make some improvements.

In fact, Farenbaugh apparently realizes that and has made it known that since the damage is already done, the Forest Service will indeed look into the possibility of working with Noblett before it is refilled. Already being considered are removal of unwanted vegetation and silt, and opening up more of the shoreline.

My hope is that these steps are indeed taken – and more. I’m thinking beach.

Why not? A few truckloads of sand and there you have it.

I guess the ultimate goal is to at least put the water back in the lake, but if Noblett is reestablished as a local swimming destination, I’ll be one of the first to dive in.

Movies and cars make a fine combination

Having the opportunity to put together a story for this week’s Herald about one of the last 12 drive-in theaters still showing movies in Missouri was a bittersweet experience.

I was glad to know that Houston’s Phoenix Drive-in seemed to be in good hands under the direction of general manager Richard Thomas and ownership of his daughter Samantha, but I was saddened by the realization that the drive-in may be on the endangered species list as a viable source of entertainment.

With rising costs already creating a tough landscape for “ma and pa” operations to survive in (including everything from facility overhead to obtaining films), the switch to 100-percent digital that Hollywood has scheduled for 2013 promises to ratchet up the difficulty even more.

I remember how much fun it was going to drive-ins as I was growing up in Orange County, Calif., even if I was in the back seat of a 1966 Comet station wagon. I always thought the chrome-looking speaker hanging on the front window was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen and that gigantic screen all the cars were pointed at was just plain awesome.

“Mom, how do they make that picture so big?”

“I don’t know, honey. They just do.”

I recall attending one of the other last remaining drive-ins about seven or eight years ago in the little northeast Georgia mountains town of Tiger. We set up some folding chairs next to our van and watched a movie under the starry sky, the sound seemingly emanating from all around us as car stereos and outdoor speakers mounted on the concessions building teamed up to fill the air with soundtrack audio.

Even though it got a little chilly that night (as can happen in the Blue Ridge mountains), it was an experience unlike one to be had at any indoor venue.

And I’ve been to the Phoenix, too. You have to hand it to whoever designed the place, because you can’t park a vehicle there and have a bad view of the screen.

My hope is that the drive-in doesn’t disappear (or isn’t allowed to disappear) from the list of available entertainment options. The unique marriage between two of Americans’ favorite things – cars and movies – is something to be preserved, whatever that might take.

Call me old fashioned (and you’ll be right), but I think it would be shame if future generations only associate movies with smart phones and Netflix.

On a more local level, I hope the Phoenix Drive-in lives on in Houston, and people in the community increasingly take advantage of the opportunity to watch a current movie from the comfort of their bucket or bench seats. It’s a pretty cool concept, really; you can be yourself more so than you can when you’re in the same room as a bunch of other people.

By the way, if you go and an action flick I showing, make sure to bring the dog. They especially like car chases, galloping horses and computer-generated bad guys.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer, copy editor and advertising representative for the Houston Herald. Email:  ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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