BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - I'm going to put on my "tourism" or "chamber of commerce" hat for this week's blog.
If you live in South Mississippi, and haven't visited one of our barrier islands, you're missing out on a tremendous natural resource.
I was fortunate enough to do a news story on Ship Island this week. In fact, I get teased around the news room sometimes for volunteering to do stories that involve islands or boat trips. That's true enough. I love the outdoors and you can't get any better than visiting the barrier islands.
If you're like me, and don't own a motor boat, the Skrmetta family can get you to Ship Island and back for a very reasonable fee. That family has operated Ship Island Excursions for several generations. Captain Louis Skrmetta, Captain Joe and others on that team are a knowledgeable resource and can answer most any of your island questions.
The trip to and from the island is half the fun of visiting Ship Island. Gulf breezes and dolphin sightings abound. You can relax on the open air deck, or choose a seat inside the boat.
Ship Island, Horn Island, Deer Island, Cat Island and Petit Bois Island are the main barrier islands not far from our coast line.
I've been to Ship, Horn, Deer and Cat. I almost forgot about Round Island, near Pascagoula. I've done stories there also.
All of these islands are great for fishing, kayaking, bird watching, hiking, swimming or just relaxing on a beach. If any of those activities appeal to you, then one of the barrier islands is the perfect near-home getaway.
Horn Island is my personal favorite, though I enjoy all of the islands. Horn is a little more wilderness and appeals to a sense of adventure. Deer is unique in that it features a variety of eco systems (marsh, woodlands and beach) and it's so close to the mainland. But if you walk across to the south side of Deer, you'll soon forget about the noises and traffic of Highway 90. Cat Island was nice, but my only trip there, several years ago, the bugs ate me alive.
I've been to Ship Island more often than the others. That's because I've done so many news stories there, and the Skrmetta family is kind enough to take reporters to and from the island to help promote it as a tourist destination.
Fort Massachusetts is an amazing structure nestled along the north shore of the island. It has been in danger of washing into the surf the past several years, as storms have eroded the northern shoreline. Several years ago, the Park Service had to pump tons of sand around it to shore up the area.
Construction crews are busy this season rebuilding the ranger station, restrooms, visitor center and snack bar that Hurricane Katrina washed away. The work is expected to continue through the summer. That's what my most recent story was about. The island remains open, but visitors are instructed to stay clear of the active construction zones.
I'm planning a kayak adventure to Horn Island sometime this summer with a buddy of mine. I figure if the late artist, Walter Anderson, can make it there in a very small wooden boat, then my Wilderness Systems kayak should be good enough too.
The islands, to me, are the ultimate getaway. They're close enough for convenience, but when you reach the shores, it seems you're a world away from traffic, noise, crowds and deadlines. It's perfect to reflect and recharge oneself.
The barrier islands of South Mississippi are true treasures. I hope you'll get a chance to do a little "island hopping" this summer or fall. In fact, now is a great time to visit, before the heat gets too miserable. You won't regret it. In fact, if you visit the island once, I'm certain you'll return.