Preservation team restoring Fort Massachusetts - - The News for South Mississippi

Preservation team restoring Fort Massachusetts

By Steve Phillips – bio | email

SHIP ISLAND, MS (WLOX) - Ship Island Excursions launches another season of ferry boat trips to the island beginning this weekend. Visitors will find new facilities built by the National Park Service and a preservation project that means historic Fort Massachusetts is temporarily off limits.

Serenity is perhaps the biggest draw to the barrier island paradise. Visitors can escape the daily grind of the work place and forget about worries of the world.

"Folks come out here to get away from the mainland," said Louis Skrmetta, whose family operates the tour boat to Ship Island. "You leave the automobiles and the stress of Highway 90 behind you. It's therapy out here. You relax walking down the beach."

For the first time since Katrina, island visitors will enjoy new amenities built by the National Park Service.

"We're all excited with these new buildings out here. We've been waiting since Katrina. We're out of the trailers. No more port-a-lets. Large picnic area. Nice breezeway. Plenty of shade this year. Of course we're got our umbrellas and chairs set up. We're going to have over 100 sets of umbrellas and chairs," he said.

Along with taking in the beauty of nature, visitors the next several weeks will discover something that seems totally out of place on the island:  A construction crane.

Work crews from the Historic Preservation Training Center in Maryland are restoring Fort Massachusetts.

"We're working on specifically Katrina damage to the fort," said Eric Hutchinson, who's overseeing the work.

Masons are carefully restoring damaged brick work. The heavy crane is needed to lift and set coping stones, or cap stones that line the top of the mid-1800s fort.

"It's a special building. And it's 95 percent intact. And if you keep that five percent maintenance going, continuing, we can keep it for a long time," said Hutchinson.

Visitors can view the restoration work from afar, but tours of the fort are temporarily suspended until the work is finished. The project should wrap up by the end of May.

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