Projects Will Be Part of 50-State Report
WASHINGTON — Just days before the release of a 50-state report outlining some of the country's most promising ways to reconnect Americans to the natural world, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today highlighted two projects in the state of Mississippi that will be included in the final report — representing what states believe are among the best investments in the nation to support a healthy, active population, conserve wildlife and working lands, and create travel, tourism and outdoor-recreation jobs across the country.
Establishing the Mississippi Coastal Heritage Trail as a National Historic Trail and Pascagoula River as a National Blueway are among 100 projects nationwide that will be highlighted in next week's report — two in every state — as part of President Obama's America's Great Outdoors initiative to establish a 21st century conservation and recreation agenda and reconnect Americans to the outdoors.
The report is a result of 50 meetings with governors and stakeholders held by Salazar and other senior Interior officials to solicit ideas on how to best implement AGO in their states. These projects were identified for their potential to conserve important lands and build recreation opportunities and economic growth for the surrounding communities as part of close engagement with Gov. Haley Barbour and the state of Mississippi, as well as private landowners, local- and tribal-elected officials, community organizations and outdoor-recreation and conservation stakeholders. The full 50-state report will be released in the coming weeks.
“Under the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, we are listening to the people of Mississippi and communities across America and working with them on locally-based projects that will conserve the beauty and health of our land and water and open up more opportunities for people to enjoy them,” Salazar said. “My staff and I have been asking each governor for the most promising projects to support in their states, and we will do all we can to help move them forward.”
The two projects in Mississippi highlighted by Salazar in the forthcoming report are:
Mississippi Coastal Heritage Trail
The Mississippi Coastal Heritage Trail provides vital bikeway, water-trail, and walking-trail connections between people and destinations, including Bay St. Louis, Pass Christian, Long Beach, Gulfport, Biloxi, Ocean Springs, Pascagoula, and Moss Point.
Through the leadership of the Gulf Coast Heritage Trails Partnership, local planners are working together to provide the public with quality recreation areas while protecting sensitive coastal habitat. The culturally rich area along the trail corridor includes Bay of Biloxi's fishing community and Turkey Creek's historic African American settlement.
With collaborative leadership by the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, local and regional planners have achieved a common vision of trail connectivity throughout the Mississippi Gulf Coast that will eventually network throughout the state of Mississippi and the Southeast.
While planning for and providing a network connecting many recreation sites, waterways, islands, and forests, the opportunity also exists to provide conservation education to area residents and visitors. Building stewards who will protect the magnificent natural, cultural, and historic resources of the Mississippi Gulf Coast is critical to maintaining this area's integrity.
Pascagoula River National Blueway
The Pascagoula River is widely recognized as the last free-flowing river system in the contiguous United States. It also lies within the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area. The 164-mile-long basin covers 9,600 square miles of southeast Mississippi and a portion of southwest Alabama. The basin features more than 15,000 stream miles, as well as key wetland habitats including extensive hardwood bottomlands, river swamps, and extensive tidal marshes and swamps near the river mouth.
Upland habitats across the basin include longleaf-pine and southern-mixed-hardwood forests and a number of unique relict dune systems. These natural areas offer endless high-quality outdoor recreational opportunities. Although many of the public sites support recreational activities, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 destroyed much of the existing infrastructure. These communities need assistance in rebuilding recreational facilities and attracting recreational enthusiasts to their region.
The report will also include potential actions by Interior and its bureaus to support the projects identified. In Mississippi, for example, the Department could provide technical assistance for restoration of the Pascagoula River and increased recreational access. The Department could also designate the Mississippi Coastal Heritage Trail as a National Historic Trail and provide technical or financial support to expand and improve trail access.
The Department of the Interior will work with each of its key bureaus — including the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — to direct available resources and personnel to make these projects a reality.
“The America's Great Outdoors Initiative turns the conventional wisdom about the federal government's role in conservation on its head,” Salazar said. “Rather than dictate policies or conservation strategies from Washington, it supports grassroots, locally driven initiatives.
For more information on the President's America's Great Outdoors initiative, click here.
To view a map of the projects already announced, click here.