By BECKY GILLETTE
Move over Central Park. The 2,700-acre Fannye Cook Natural Area along the Pearl River is Mississippi largest urban natural area–three times the size of New York City’s Central Park. A recent $150,000 grant from Entergy Mississippi will help move the natural area closer to opening.
Wildlife Mississippi, a nonprofit conservation organization that owns and manages the Fannye Cook Natural Area, is working to develop public access to the mostly-forested site for conservation education and outdoor recreation. Some of the activities planned include walking, biking, wildlife viewing, paddling, fishing and hunting opportunities for kids and wounded veterans.
George Walker III, Wildlife Mississippi’s president, said Entergy’s generous support moves Wildlife Mississippi closer to the goal of providing a natural area where people can learn about, experience and enjoy the natural world in the heart of Mississippi’s largest metropolitan area.
“Through conservation education programs, this site will also help us demonstrate the importance of protecting water and air quality, providing wildlife habitat and managing our natural resources in sustainable ways based on sound science,” Walker said.
Haley Fisackerly, Entergy Mississippi president and CEO, said in addition to the improving the environment and promoting education, having a developed outdoor recreation site like this also makes metro Jackson more livable and attractive.
“Surveys show that quality of life is a top factor for companies searching for new locations,” Fisackerly said. “Communities that build and maintain sustainable green spaces are more likely to attract young labor.”
Entergy is also erecting an eagle nesting structure to commemorate its gift.
Jason May, a field biologist for Wildlife Mississippi, said the park is a wetland that helps with backwater flooding of the Pearl River, which is a big problem in the Jackson area.
“The whole project area itself is a wetland mitigation bank that was developed by the Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT),” May said. “Anytime MDOT develops a highway that impacts wetlands, it is compensated by putting aside land in a wetlands mitigation bank.”
May said they are excited about being able to provide public access to such a large population area.
“It is such a great place for a public natural area because nearly three quarters of a million people live in the region,” May said. “A lot may be people who don’t have a way to experience the outdoors without being a private landowner. This will be a place for people to come out to exercise if they like, recreate, view wildlife, and there will be some fishing events. It is really to just get people outdoors enjoying recreation, which will improve the quality of life of the area. There will be educational signage and information about wildlife and history. There are going to be multiple aspects to the property area.”
It is hoped the natural area will be ready for opening in about two and a half years.
“We want facilities like restrooms in place before we open it up to the public,” May said.
Yolanda Moore, public relations manager for Jackson, said the natural area will certainly be a boost to tourism in the Jackson area.
“The natural habitat and what it can offer to outdoor enthusiasts is very promising along with the other recent additions to our great city like the two new museums, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History, The Westin Jackson and The District at Eastover,” Moore said. “It definitely makes the city even more attractive. A developed water source is an instant attraction. When you add areas to have a picnic or kayak, it increases the propensity for both national and international visitors.”
Reports from the Outdoor Industry Association show outdoor recreation among the nation’s largest economic sectors, representing the essence of thousands of American communities, and providing quality of life for millions of American workers.
“Investments in outdoor recreation on public lands and waters result in healthier communities, healthier economies and healthier people,” Moore said.
The Fannye Cook Natural Area stretches from near Airport Road in Flowood to the Ross Barnett Reservoir’s spillway.
Wildlife Mississippi dedicated the area in 2016, naming it for the late Fannye Cook, a Mississippi conservation pioneer and the first director of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science. MDOT, the site’s original owner, transferred it to Wildlife Mississippi for long-term management.
Wildlife Mississippi is celebrating its 20th year of conserving Mississippi’s lands, waters and wildlife. The organization has protected, restored or enhanced approximately 500,000 acres in the state. Its mission is to conserve Mississippi’s lands, waters and natural heritage to sustain a clean environment and a healthy economy.
Through Entergy’s Environmental Initiatives Fund, shareholders provide about $1 million annually to support environmental improvement projects in communities served by Entergy. Since the fund was established in 2001, more than $37 million has been committed to projects through the fund.
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