GAUTIER, MS (WLOX) - "Three and a half weeks ago, I found this spot and started fishing," said Reggie Pierce while fishing off the pier at City Park in Gautier. "I've been out here ever since."
It took Pierce four years living in South Mississippi to discover the fishing spot on the Pascagoula River. Only then did he discover the beauty of this natural resource.
"I wasn't aware of it, you know, that this was called the Pascagoula River," he said.
To him, the river was a pretty view from a bridge while driving, and nothing more.
Some Jackson County residents are ready to make use of this hidden jewel. They're promoting it this week with the annual Pascagoula River Nature Festival. Events started this weekend in Lucedale and Ocean Springs, and will continue throughout the week and into next weekend.
"I think that we're really on the cusp of people discovering and understanding the Pascagoula River," said Kathy Wilkinson, owner of Eco-Tours of South Mississippi. "And I think that this festival will help very much to promote it."
Wilkinson grew up along the river, and now takes joy in showing the river to newcomers. She said with eco-tourism on the rise, and the proposed Richton Salt Dome project threatening the river's eco-system, this year's festival is especially important.
Organizers say one of the main points of this week's festivities is to introduce the river to people who live nearby. Different locations throughout Jackson and George Counties will host lectures, exhibits, and river tours for people in the community. Organizers said there are thousands of people in Jackson and George counties who don't even know what's in their back yards.
"People that live in a place don't always get out in nature in their homes," said Mark LaSalle, Director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center. "A lot of people here really don't realize how valuable and unique the Pascagoula is."
"You don't really have a full understanding of how important this river is and its beauty, until you're actually out there," she said. "Once you go out on the river, you can see how worthy it is of our attention."
Click here for a full list of activities related to the festival.