The northern gateway to the River City will soon be home to a unique community park that celebrates nature. Work on the Sawmill Landing Park has finally begun with the removal of invasive trees and shrubs that have dominated the site for many years. Hidden within that curtain of green, are several majestic trees that will anchor what will be a nature-based park at the entrance to downtown Moss Point.
This new element of the city adds yet another green component to what makes the River City a unique destination to see nature up close. The River Park across Main Street provides direct vistas to the Escatawpa River, including views of an active Bald Eagle nest and the many birds that fish the river. The nearby Pascagoula River Audubon Center celebrates the birds and wildlife of the Pascagoula River basin. The Pelican Landing Conference Center, across the Escatawpa River, provides scenic views of the river and the birds and wildlife that thrive there.
Together, these sites provide birds and wildlife with the types of natural habitats upon which they depend, that is the key to their value as destinations for people to see nature as it should be. For the Sawmill Landing site, that goal was codified in the acquisition documentation when the property was purchased as part of the Coastal Impact Assistance Program.
Short of modest physical elements to support public use, the site’s rebirth as a park is being directed toward the conservation and preservation of its natural features, as part of the greater local riverine environment. The current restoration of the site is funded through the Mississippi Tidelands Trust Fund Program, appropriated by the State Legislature, and administered through the Secretary of State and the Department of Marine Resources.
Moss Point Mayor Billy Knight, Sr. is excited to get started. “I am happy to be the mayor of Moss Point at this point and time, as it allows me to help get this Sawmill Landing Park up and going that has been dormant for at least five years. This land that is now known as Sawmill Landing Park is at what I call the front door to our city and if it is our front door then I want it to be beautiful, inviting and welcoming. When it is finished, I promise, it will be all of that and more.”
Toward that goal, the recent work to remove invasive species is the first step in the process of restoring the site’s natural condition. Certified Arborist David Minkler is coordinating what is a multistep process that will ultimately restore the site to more natural conditions. “I am excited about the opportunity to rescue this important site from invasive plants that have suppressed the native trees and shrubs. Moving forward, we will work to continue to remove invasive plants ahead of reestablishing biodiversity of the site by planting a variety of native species.”
Along the way, the Audubon Center will provide outreach about the process and education about the impact of invasive species on habitats and the value of native species. Engagement of the community through education and outreach is, in fact, a key element of the process, as it provides for direct experiences for residents about natural resources in their community.
As David Minkler is fond of saying, maintenance of any good natural site requires long-term commitment to keep invasive species at bay and keep the site healthy. Through that process, residents build bonds with the public spaces they protect and enjoy. That is truly the most important part of the plan for Sawmill Landing Park. The park’s development will be exciting to watch.