Thursday, February 17, 2011

Oil cleanup crews leaving Mississippi's barrier islands

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS--Visitors to Mississippi's barrier islands this spring and summer will notice something different: Very few oil cleanup workers.

Dan Brown, superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, told The Mississippi Press that cleanup will stop on March 1, so as to not disturb the nesting areas for shorebirds and turtles. The work will resume on Aug. 15th.

Brown said workers have already removed a lot of oil from the barrier islands of Petit Bois, Horn, West Ship, East Ship and Cat. But he admits there is still more there.

Last week, the Coast Guard released a report saying the Gulf beach cleanup has reached a point where crews, heavy equipment and thorough scrubbing can cause more damage to the ecosystem than good. The report said recent oil samples show weathered oil found along beaches has lost the majority of the toxic compounds in it and the oil left on shores meets federal safety thresholds for people.

Terry Morris, a retired National Park Service ranger and oil spill coordinator, said maintenance and monitoring teams will continue to check the island beaches from March through August. He said areas with oil and without birds will be cleaned.


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

River guide to discuss opportunities for paddling businesses in Louisiana

A river guide and canoe builder will speak about identifying criteria for canoeing and kayaking trails from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 23 at the LSU AgCenter’s Scott Research and Extension Center in Winnsboro.

John Ruskey of Clarksdale, Miss., designs and builds canoes. He started Quapaw Canoe Company in 1998.

He provides guided expeditions by kayak, canoe and stand-up paddle boards on the Lower Mississippi River and some of its tributaries, including the Big Sunflower, Yazoo, Coldwater, Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers, the lower reaches of the White and Arkansas rivers and the Atchafalaya River.

Ruskey will discuss opportunities for paddling businesses in Louisiana, how he formed his company, his business plan and lessons he’s learned, said LSU AgCenter agritourism coordinator Dora Ann Hatch.
The presentation is supported by a $115,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation to the LSU AgCenter to help make the northeast Louisiana Mississippi River parishes a nature tourism destination.

For more details, contact: Dora Ann Hatch at (318) 927-9654 Ext. 229 or e-mail her at


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Discussion: Time for some Central Mississippi Blue Trails?

Blue Trails and events to promote rivers for paddlesports
brings tourist dollars.
 BY: B. Keith Plunkett

The Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain is one of 113 Land Trusts accredited through the Land Trust Alliance, and the only one in Mississippi. Other Land Trusts in the state include the Mississippi Land Trust based out of Stoneville, the North Mississippi Land Trust in Hernando, the East Mississippi Foothills Land Trust in Meridian, and the Caplan Wildlife Sanctuary in Tylertown. Of these five, the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, the North Mississippi Land Trust, and the East Mississippi Foothills Land Trust have dealt directly with watershed issues. The LTMCP and NMLT are the only two that have implemented development of Blueways, or Water Trails.

In general, land trusts are organizations that help to permanently protect land for the benefit of the public. There are more than 1,600 land trusts in the United States. These community-based institutions have protected more than 37 million acres of land.

Land trusts may protect land through donation and purchase, by working with landowners who wish to donate or sell conservation easements (permanent deed restrictions that prevent harmful land uses), or by acquiring land outright to maintain working farms, forests, wilderness, or for other conservation reasons.

By comparison, a blue trail is a dedicated stretch of river that enjoys special clean water safeguards and is a destination for fishing, boating, and other recreation. Blue trails, like hiking trails, help people discover rivers and provide a connection between urban and rural communities and the great outdoors. Blue trails provide a fun and exciting way to get youth outdoors and are economic drivers benefiting local businesses and quality of life.

Land Trusts and Blue Trails work together for the benefit of both.

In addition to Land Trusts, groups like the Pascagoula River Basin Alliance bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to help in protection efforts. The Pascagoula River Basin Alliance mission is to promote the ecological, economic and cultural health and viability of the Pascagoula, Leaf, Chickasawhay, and Escatawpa Rivers and their watersheds by fostering research, communication, and action. Many other waterways are semi protected by State Wildlife Management Areas that adjoin them.

American Rivers is forging partnerships with land trusts and other local groups to create blue trails as an innovative way to protect clean water and critical riverside lands, while promoting river recreation, sustainable economic development, and community pride. But here in Mississippi, the idea of Blue Trails is one that hasn't taken off as quickly as in other states.

While Mississippi's Gulf Coast, East Mississippi, North Mississippi, and to a lesser degree the Delta and Southwest have ongoing efforts that lend themselves to potential Blue Trail development, what I can't seem to find is any reference to a similar movement in Central Mississippi.

At the Reservoir, the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District oversees recreational opportunities that include managing 48 parks and recreational facilities for an estimated 2.5 million annual visitors. Ther are five campgrounds, 16 parks, 22 boat launches, three handicapped-accessible trails, two multi-purpose trails and a mountain bike trail. Each campground has a live-in, on-site Reservoir Patrol manager. Many proponents continue to fight for a similar proposal to create lakes south of downtown Jackson on the Pearl River. The Army Corps of Engineers continues to shoot down that project. Isn't the possibility of a Blue Trail something that would benefit the area without building more dams?

A healthy river can increase property values, boost recreational opportunities and local business, reduce water pollution, and protect people and property from flooding. But dams, levees and other man-made structures disrupt the natural functions of rivers, leaving many of them lifeless or cut off from their communities.

Why hasn't this been tried as a way to promote the ecology of the Pearl River and paddlesports as a legitimate tourist attraction?

Does this just make too much sense to be tried? Or has it been tried, and found to be unworkable? If it works, the possibilities to jump start similar efforts in Central Mississippi would be much improved.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Second Annual Battle on the Bayou to be March 12

The second running of the Battle on the Bayou will be held on Saturday March 12 on Old Fort Bayou in Ocean Springs, MS. The race will benefit the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, a group that is working toward conserving several important coastal habitats, and has established several recreational Blueway water trails for paddlers. One is Old Fort Bayou itself.

Old Fort Bayou begins in the Latimer area of Jackson County and meanders southwest growing wider and deeper till it empties into the Back Bay of Biloxi.  The race course runs roughly 9.5 miles over black-water bayou through estuarine marsh and maritime forest.  It will start at the Gulf Hills Resort grounds and conclude at The Shed and Camp Journey's End.    

Ernest Herndon, author of Canoeing MississippiPaddling the Pascagoula and Canoeing Louisiana will be in attendance at the pre-race event held on Friday evening at Gulf Hills to sign books.     
A cardboard boat race will take place in the Gulf Hills Hotel swimming pool.  Eight teams will be given 2 hours to construct a pool worthy vessel.  The teams will be given cardboard, pvc pipe, duct tape and a utility knife.  Once the time is up, the boats hit the water for a hilarious race to see who wins or makes it to the other side of the pool.  

Friday evening festivities will also include a "Taste of the Town" Reception that feature Ocean Springs area restaurants, children's activities, and more.

For more information on the weekend festivities, and the race go to

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

John Ruskey and Quapaw Canoe Company of Clarksdale to be featured in Canoe and Kayak March issue

November morning on Buck Island; Ruskey soaking in the sun.
 P: Rob Zaleski 
Canoe & Kayak managing editor Dave Shively and art director Robert Zaleski paddled over 100 miles down the Mississippi River’s wildest lower-river reaches with Quapaw Canoe Company owner-guide John Ruskey in his handcrafted 30-foot voyager-style canoe. In the March 2011 issue of C&K, on newsstands now, the pair goes deep into Ruskey’s big-water world of desolate bends and uninhabited mid-river islands, illustrating the on-river experience and detailing the conservation battle to preserve the crucial public-use pockets along this apparent, yet overlooked expedition destination.

In late October, the American Land Conservancy and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service penned an agreement to permanently conserve the 880 timbered acres on Buck Island, solidifying the long-awaited, crucial first step in its permanent protection. Buck Island lies a short paddle north of Helena, Arkansas, and provides the crucial launching point into the fledgling Lower Mississippi River Water Trail—the route highlighted and paddled in the story, which runs to Choctaw Island, an 8,000-acre island near Arkansas City, Ark.

Check out interviews below with Kevin Smith and Tim Richardson, two keys conservation players speaking about the Lower Mississippi River restoration stakes from the water, as well as a few more, unseen shots from Zaleski of sunrise on the big river, capturing the same scene Mark Twain described over a century ago in Life on the Mississippi: “… when the sun gets well up, and distributes a pink flush here and a powder of gold yonder and a purple haze where it will yield the best effect, you grant that you have seen something that is worth remembering.”

And below you'll find more video from Canoe and Kayak on Mississippi's John Ruskey.

Be sure and pick up a copy of the March issue of Canoe and Kayak for the entire story and go to the website to view more pictures HERE.