Mississippi Pascagoula River
Spend even an hour on the Pascagoula River, and it feels as if you’ve travelled back a couple of centuries. Alligator eyes watch from the shade cast by black gum and bald cypress, and birds call overhead. Further along, a flash of brown and white on the riverbank marks the quick retreat of a deer. Except for the cushioned seats, shady canopy and other modern conveniences of your tour boat, you could be floating through a time and place virtually untouched by another human.
The Pasagoula, one of the country’s last free-flowing rivers, meanders for some 80 miles from the point where it’s formed by the confluence of the Chickasawhay and Leaf Rivers near Lucedale. It runs south past Moss Point and into the Mississippi Sound at Pascagoula. Along the way it passes through swampy bottomlands and bayous rich with waterfowl and wildlife. It slips into coastal marshlands fringed with bands of coldgrass, which harbour colonies of fiddler crabs, armies of salt marsh snails and a world of microscopic marine life.
The gopher tortoise and the Mississippi redbelly turtle nest here, as do bald eagles. Migratory birds such as the brown pelican, osprey and cormorant make this their winter home. In spring, when the upper reaches of the river bloom with mountain laurel and wild azalea, swallow-tailed kites, with their distinctive forked tails, soar and glide on the wind currents.
One place to access the river is the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, near Interstate 10 in Moss Point. Nature-based events and activities bring bird-watchers and other nature lovers to the little white house at the headwaters of Bennett Bayou, a gateway to the Pascagoula. From here, you can explore the river with Captain Benny McCoy, who with brother Lynn offers two-hour boat tours each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. During spring migration, usually in April they also offer six-hour boat trips that begin near Vancleave and travel for about 20 miles through the Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area.
It is said that at night you can hear the river “singing” where it flows beneath Interstate 10. According to legend it’s the sound of the Pascagoula Indians who walked into the river, singing and chanting, to drown rather than face defeat in a battle with the Biloxi Indians.
April also brings one of the area’s largest events, the Pascagoula River Nature Festival. The celebration is held at the centre and in Gautier, Lucedale, Moss Point and Ocean Springs. It’s scheduled around Earth Day (April 22).