New group aims to boost nature tourism and education

MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - There's a new organization in Jackson County that wants to increase opportunities for nature tourism and environmental education. It's called Coastal Nature Destinations Group.

Group leaders discussed those goals Tuesday, during a tour of the picturesque Pascagoula River.

"This plant here to the left of us, as a kid me and my two brothers used to try and use it for cane poles," said river guide Benny McCoy, who teaches about plants and wildlife during an excursion on the Pascagoula River.

The beauty found along this scenic waterway is a prime example of what can attract so-called nature tourists.

"We can actually help protect and be good stewards of the river by promoting it as an economic place or a nature tourist destination where people can come and enjoy nature. And get value out of it," said Dr. Mark LaSalle with the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

Wildflower blooms are in abundance this time of year. Spider lilies, Louisiana irises, spatterdock blooms and bell-shaped flowers from the leather plant are all in blossom. This river tour is the kind of adventure that can attract more eco-tourists.

"Put more heads in beds in hotels. And get people to our restaurants and shops. We think it's a great match for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It's good for residents too 'cause it's all those things we love to do and would like to have more opportunities for," said Julia Weaver with Coastal Nature Destinations.

The new group also wants to increase opportunities for environmental education.

"Because each woodpecker's hole is a different shape, each species," said Alice Duckett, as she explained the various holes in a dead tree along the river.

"There are studies that show that learning in nature is much more successful than learning behind a desk or behind a computer screen. And so that's one of my goals with this organization is to put our visitors out in nature and let them experience it themselves," said Jennifer Buchannan of the Grand Bay NERR.

We're lucky enough to experience a bald eagle in the distance. Benny McCoy says they're increasing in number along the Pascagoula.

The majestic osprey also call the river home. One male seemed to mug for the camera, while the nesting female kept a close eye on our approach.

"We have to stay connected. We all have the same goals. We all want the same things. We want people to get out there and realize what there is. We want people outside," said Kelly Ferguson with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge.

Outdoors in South Mississippi, there is much to experience and enjoy.

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