Hancock County Pine Savanna Dedicated

Nature lovers have a new place to enjoy in Hancock County. The Nature Conservancy dedicated the Lakeshore Savanna Preserve Thursday. The preserve is located off Lakeshore Road and covers 160 acres.

Environmentalist Leah Bray, with the Nature Conservancy, gave nature lovers a tour so they could see the plants and wildflowers found in the Savanna Preserve.

"This is a swamp sunflower and it typically grows in pine Savannas or along ditch banks. Gull berry has the little purple berries on it this time of year don't eat them. They're not good. Deer, birds love them."

Environmentalists say Pine Savannas are an important part of our eco system.

"This area here is a Mississippi Nature Heritage Program Site. It's a priority site for the Nature Conservancy because of the diverse array of plant species and bird habitat that this provides," Robbie Fisher, Director of the Nature Conservancy, said.

Savannas were once found in abundance from Texas to South Carolina but development and improper management of the land has destroyed much of it.

"Less than three percent remains of that original acreage," Dr. Bill Walker, Executive Director of the Department of Marine Resources, said. "We've got to be good stewards of this environment. Not only preserve them, but enhance them and convert them back to what they once were."

The Nature Conservancy began purchasing this land in 1998. Over the years, people like the Phillips family have sold property to the preserve.

"We did not hesitate because we're very interested in preserving the natural things about Hancock County," Dorothy Phillips said.

Forty more acres were added this summer, putting more land in the hands of those who promise to protect it. The Nature Conservancy isn't finished with the Savanna Preserve. It hopes to buy more land to make the 160 acre site even larger.

by Al Showers