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.

No comments:

Post a Comment