June 24, 2008

Nature Grows on Moss Point: Audubon Center Off to an Impressive Start

By Karen Nelson, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jun. 24--PASCAGOULA -- The Pascagoula River Audubon Center, two years in existence, is growing as the gateway to the largest, free-flowing river in the continental United States.

Mark LaSalle, center director, gave the county Board of Supervisors an update Monday on Audubon's progress in Moss Point along the river.

Established near the city's popular Pelican Landing and the river exit off Interstate 10, the center is utilizing a small house as its interim building. But it has added three outdoor classrooms made of MDOT materials leftover from Katrina and has reclaimed marsh and wetlands that had been turned into boat slips years ago.

This summer is the second for a growing summer camp at the center with 50 children attending.

The next major construction project is a nature trail that will run three miles from Pelican landing to north of the center. Combined, state and private money will pay for the Audubon trail.

"We can attract people with that trail alone," LaSalle told county leaders. Capturing tourists and travelers, attracting Coast families and catering to school groups and education projects are part of the primary focus of the center.

Partnering with McCoy's Swamp Tours, Audubon is helping to grow that ecotourism business on the center grounds.

Outreach includes a project to build birdhouses out of the debris left behind when Katrina took down fences. Because the storm also took so many trees and so much bird habitat, Audubon calls the project FEMA housing for birds.

Among the other projects under way is tree recovery responsible for the distribution of 80,000 seedlings, Operation Backyard Recovery, a National Science Foundation "Wet Kids" education project, workshops for teachers, Citizen Science, the Great Backyard Bird Count, bird conservation education and nature tourism promotion with hotels and lodging.

And within a few years, Audubon will be ready to tackle fundraising for the construction of a new, $4.5 million, 9,000-square-foot center, already designed for the property.

"It's impressive," Supervisor Melton Harris, who represents Moss Point and Pascagoula, said Monday. "It's an impressive sight. You really get close to nature up there."


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