10.8-mile Pinebelt Blueway opens to public

By BETH BUNCH,

Outdoor enthusiasts now have another recreational option for canoeing, kayaking, or tubing in Forrest and Jones counties. Thanks to months of work, collaboration and development by the Piney Woods Chapter of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, the newly-established Pinebelt Blueway officially opened Tuesday for public use from dawn until dusk.

The Blueway, a 10.8 mile route, begins in Jones County at the Eastabuchie boat ramp on Church Road and flows south, ending at the Highway 11 bridge in Hattiesburg and Forrest County. This Phase One project was spearheaded by the Piney Woods Chapter.

As cars and trucks passed over the bridge, Steven Utroska with the Land Trust talked over the roar. He said the local chapter had been working on this project for several years.

“We were fortunate to be able to get a grant through the Recreational Trails Program through the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks,” he said.” We had a number of partners involved with this project.”

The mission of the Land Trust is to protect and  preserve the environment through blueways like this.

“We want to be able to alert people of the waterway, so they can come out and enjoy the waterways,” said Utroska. “We also want to educate them in environmental concerns, as they are out and about here enjoying this. We also want to ask them to pick up after themselves and leave it better than when you came. People should take time to enjoy the beauty that we have here in Mississippi, especially here in the Pine Belt.” 

VisitHattiesburg Executive Director Marlo Dorsey praised the people who were able to work together to bring this project to fruition.

“If you think of the Blueway, we have education, conservation and recreation – a triple win to truly be able to promote everything we have,” she said. “But it’s not what we have, but what we share. When we can all come together and talk about all the really great things our community has to offer, we can provide more opportunities for all of our tourists to see the great things we have in Hattiesburg.”

Mayor Toby Barker said the Pine Belt’s natural environment is one of the areas that we don’t stress enough.

“We need to be developing those more, not only on the river, but hopefully on Gordon’s Creek eventually,” he said. “The more we can promote that, get people to using and make accessibility easier, the more folks can enjoy the Hattiesburg experience.”

District 2 Supervisor Charles Marshall said after talking with Russ Bryant, who has worked closely with the Land Trust project, that they were going to try and increase the Blueway from the Bouie, Glendale, Peps Point and the Okatoma above Forrest County in Covington County.

There’s potential here,” he said. “This is a start and we look for bigger things to come.

According to Bryant, the Piney Woods Chapter of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain works to preserve and promote our area’s natural resources.

“The Leaf River watershed is an underutilized natural amenity,” Bryant said. “We hope the completion and promotion of this first phase of a blueway system encourages the respectful use of these water resources and attracts individuals and families to this new community asset.”

Dorsey noted that area residents as well as tourists enjoy spending time in Hattiesburg’s great outdoors on its already existing state parks, trails and waterways.

“As Mississippi’s third most visited city, the Longleaf Trace and Paul B. Johnson State Park are among Hattiesburg’s most popular outdoor offerings,” she said.

“Hattiesburg is growing in popularity as a leisure destination, and our mild climate provides the perfect backdrop for fun and adventure on our trails and waterways. We are thankful for the Land Trust’s vision and dedication to develop this new attraction. We will certainly be promoting it to our many visitors.”

Several signs and mile markers are being placed along this newly-established blueway to keep visitors on course and educate them about the natural habitats and wildlife along the route. The Blueway water current flows south and includes several sandbars along the way.

Vegetation along the water includes river birch, bald cypress, cardinal flower, spruce pine and river oak.

Wildlife that can be seen along the Blueway includes swallow-tail kites, water moccasins, pearl darter, bald eagles and yellow-blotched sawback turtles.

While the Pinebelt Blueway is free for public use, adventurers must provide their own floating equipment.

The takeout point is located just east of the Chain Park entrance on Hwy. 11 at the Bouie River in Petal.

More information about the Blueway can be found on VisitHBURG.org/things-to-do/.

The Piney Woods Land Trust is a chapter of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain. Its mission is to conserve, promote, and protect the open spaces and green places of ecological, cultural or scenic significance in Lamar, Forrest, Perry, Jones and Covington Counties. More information about the Land Trust can be found on Facebook.