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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - He founded the group Turkey Creek Community Initiatives and has worked tirelessly to preserve and promote his hometown community.
Derrick Evans not only raised awareness about Turkey Creek on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, he thrust it onto the national stage, testifying before Congress and appearing on network news programs.
He is a soft spoken man who passionately shares his message with whoever will listen.
Evans has attracted the advocacy of environmental groups, which strongly support the scenic waterway and Turkey Creek residents, who are taking a more active role in making certain their historic community will be around for future generations.
The community which Derrick Evans loves, is settled in a somewhat precarious location. Turkey Creek sits in the shadow of one of the busiest commercial corridors in the entire Southeast.
The history teacher-turned-community-activist quickly realized that smart planning is required to ensure Turkey Creek's very existence.
"If that continued survival is not planned, if that thriving, healthy, vibrant, balanced co-existence between airports and swamp azaleas and shotgun homes and Waffle Houses is not planned, it's not going to happen by accident," says Evans.
The scenic Turkey Creek waterway that winds through the historic community, may well provide some of the best ammunition in the ongoing battle to preserve and protect the adjoining neighborhood.
"It is the centrally located urban greenway that this city and this region needs, that this densely populated, fast growing area needs to be a truly livable world class city," Evans asserts.
The creek, which generations of locals have used for swimming, fishing, even baptizing is largely a well kept secret for the rest of South Mississippi residents.
"Some people, they won't even realize or even know it's back here until they actually come back and see. And "wow" this really looks good. Turkey Creek has really been taking steps and doing stuff to help better the neighborhood," said Albert Sloan, an energetic 29 year old who's help cut hiking trails along the creek.
The post-Katrina Turkey Creek community is still rebuilding and restoring.
Many of its historic home owners benefited from storm recovery money made available through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
"The entire community pulled together and we worked together and we're almost back to where, almost where we were before Katrina. But we're headed that way. We have a few that are still working," said Turkey Creek native, Warren White.
But even as progress continues, potential threats to this community remain on the minds of lifelong residents.
"We are sitting at an intersection of a major U.S. highway and an interstate. And that always turns out to be commercial at some point in time," said Turkey Creek resident, John Pittman.
"This area of the gulf coast had to endure a disproportionate adverse impact because of its existence at that transportation crossroads between I-10, 49 and the airport," said Evans.
Evans, who teaches history, sees the fight for Turkey Creek as a citizens crusade to save a special "sense of place."
"Sense of place is vital to everything from our human existence as a species, to our sense of civic responsibility and orientation, to just general health of mind and body. And it's all we got is our sense of place. And our families. And the things that come together there," he said.
"Oh, it is a special place. So, hopefully this place will continue being special and everybody will know how important it is to the whole world for a model," says Deena Israel, who grew up in Turkey Creek, but now lives in Ohio.
Derrick Evans is pleased with the progress he's seen.
The scenic beauty of the waterway is being discovered by more and more people. The post-Katrina re-building continues. And a growing number of residents are joining the effort to preserve the Turkey Creek community they live in and love.
"No where in the State of Mississippi and possibly the southeast is the challenge of smart growth more obvious, profound and urgent, than right here in this very small area of Harrison County and Gulfport," says Evans.
Turkey Creek may be getting even more national publicity. An independent film maker is working on a documentary about the community.
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