OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - As the sun set Saturday evening, Fort Maurepas Park opened to the public. Hundreds gathered on Front Beach in Ocean Springs where a Katrina-battered replica of the original Fort Maurepas once stood, to welcome the arrival of the $2 million complex.
"It brings back a beautiful park, a fantastic waterfront site, a site that was really underutilized for some decades," explained Mayor Connie Moran. "And now post-Katrina, and with public input and all the planning involved, we have a beautiful green space to enjoy for people of all ages."
The park includes a pavillion, small concert stage, playground, plenty of green space, and next spring, a splash pad. The structures and landscaping may be new, but they're deeply rooted in history.
Standing guard at the pavilion is a statue of Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, the French Canadian explorer who landed on the East bank of Biloxi Bay in 1699 and built the first Fort Maurepas.
The sculptor, Canadian artist Marlene Hilton Moore, has sculpted one other statue of d'Iberville. That one stands in Ottawa, Canada's capital. She said she's thrilled to bring d'Iberville to life for South Mississippi.
"To make this discovery of the mouth of the Mississippi, to rediscover the mouth of the Mississippi, and this area comes alive because of that," Moore said. "The Mississippi was a big route."
In many ways, a walk through the new park is like a walk through history. A small stone wall marks the perimeter of the old fort. Along the stone path are all eight of the flags that have flown over Ocean Springs and South Mississippi since it was founded.
"It's an opportunity for education," Moran explained. "We have the flags here. We have the statue of Iberville. We'll also have a marker with a little bit of history about Fort Maurepas and the French Landing and Iberville himself."
Barbara Campbell, President of the 1699 Historical Society of Ocean Springs, said she looks forward to using the facility in the group's annual d'Iberville Landing event in April. A plaque will also be placed in the structure listing the names of all who have played d'Iberville in the landing event.
"It's a history that we can be proud of, and pass it on to the kids," Campbell said. "Because if we don't do it, nobody else will. They need to know what their heritage is, and why France is so important to the Gulf Coast."
The old fort replica is not completely gone. The Mississippi Maritime Heritage Foundation is using its timbers to build a historic French ship, hopefully to use in the d'Iberville landing.