Meeting Mother Nature in Mississippi

By Tom Adkinson

Only slightly more than a hundred Mississippi sandhill cranes exist. (Photo by FWS.gov)

GAUTIER, Miss. – While casino showrooms on the Mississippi Gulf Coast deliver excellent entertainment, Mother Nature knows how to put on a good show, too. Here are five ways to enjoy the outdoors just a few miles from the blackjack tables and video poker machines in Biloxi

  • Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in Gautier – This was the first refuge established for an endangered species. That was in 1975, when only about three dozen Mississippi sandhill cranes were alive. This subspecies doesn’t migrate, and the population now exceeds 110. Tours increase your odds of seeing some of the five-foot-tall birds. Also here: 12 species of carnivorous plants. FWS.gov/MississippiSandhillCrane
Photographers get up-close views of the Pascagoula River with Capt. Kathy Wilkinson. (Photo by Tom Adkinson)
  • Eco-Tours of South Mississippi in Gautier – Captain Kathy Wilkinson offers a great narrative about the 82-mile-long Pascagoula River, the longest unimpeded river in the lower 48.  She offers two-, four- and eight-hour pontoon boat trips to see alligators, herons, kingfishers and perhaps a bald eagle. She even has a swamp cabin for six if you want that experience. EcoToursOfSouthMississippi.com
  • Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Moss Point – The name of this place is a mouthful, but its “Gold” LEED interpretative center is a gem. It’s a hub for photography, fishing, birding, paddling and boating, and its scientific displays can open your eyes about the value of coastal environments. GrandBayNERR.org
Family kayaking is one activity at the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. (Photo by Pascagoula River Audubon Center)
  • Pascagoula River Audubon Center – Of Mississippi’s 400 bird species, 375 are in or around the Pascagoula River Audubon Center at some point every year. The center offers various programs, a pontoon boat tour and kayaking opportunities. Boardwalks and aquariums offer special views of many animals. PascagoulaRiver.Audubon.org
  •  To get out into open water, take the Ship Island Excursion Ferry to Ship Island to visit Fort Massachusetts, a leftover from the Civil War now protected by the National Park Service inside Gulf Islands National Seashore. The passenger-only ferry offers half- and full-day trips. Beyond the fort’s history lesson are opportunities for hiking, fishing, beach combing and birdwatching. MSShipIsland.com
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