Protecting a Metropolitan Oasis in Jackson, Mississippi

The Pearl River provides a natural oasis for birds and a place for kids to connect with nature in urban Jackson, Mississippi.

Children bird watching along the Pearl River in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. | Chris King

This guest blog was written by Chris King. It is a part of our blog series on America’s Most Endangered Rivers® – Pearl River.

When I arrived in Mississippi, I sought a suitable place to bird watch. I became acquainted with the local Audubon Society chapter and was quickly told that LeFleur’s Bluff State Park was listed as an Important Bird Area by Audubon.

Upon my arrival at the park, I was stunned.

Prothonotary warbler looks out of a box in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. | Bill Stripling

Like New York City’s Central Park and other green spaces in cities, it was an oasis of bird habitat. The park’s trails are wonderful as they snake through wetlands and skirt the Pearl River. The park’s bird checklist, created by Jackson Audubon and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, lists over 200 birds.

When I learned that this state park (Mississippi’s only urban state park) is threatened with having a considerable section of its southeast corner dredged and changed into lake bottom, I was shocked. Maps of a proposed new Pearl River lake and dam, drawn by the Rankin Hinds Pearl River Flood and Drainage Control District, show open water where 20-30 acres of forested sloughs, ridges and riverbank now exist. For me, public land with excellent bird habitat is a great asset in the middle of a city. It’s something to be valued.

It did not take me long to become the volunteer teacher for a birding summer camp run by Millsaps College for children ages 8-14. A large portion of the attendees are from families of lesser means and they attend on scholarship. This park is the first exposure to nature for many of my campers.

Children watch for birds along the Pearl River in LeFleur’s Bluff State Park. | Chris King

This park is a vital stop-over point for neotropical migrants passing through and a dynamically active nesting area for our state’s breeding bird population. Most importantly, due to its location, the park is a vital link for our inner-city youth to connect to nature.

To destroy the wild natural state of this park would be to steal opportunities away from the children of Jackson: opportunities to become inspired to study the sciences, opportunities to forge a bond with nature, and opportunities for a respite from the chaos of a large metropolitan city. Avoiding excessive damage to this park should be a priority in any flood control plans for Jackson.

Please join American Rivers by September 6, 2018, in asking the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Rankin-Hinds Pearl River Flood Control and Drainage Control District’s new dam project.

Author: Chris King

Chris King lives in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and is president of Jackson Audubon Society whose mission is to instill in the people of Jackson County an interest, knowledge, and appreciation of birds and other wildlife.

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