Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge Offers Winter Crane Tours

26850766_10155359298168215_4994836041240927406_o Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge Offers Winter Crane Tours
Those looking for winter entertainment have the opportunity to scout for local wildlife through a Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge winter crane tour.
 
Melissa Perez from the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge said that crane tours are typically offered on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the fall and winter months, depending on staffing, weather and other factors, because these are usually the best times to see both the cranes and other local wildlife.
 
“Fall and winter are typically the best times for a few reasons,” Perez said. “We tend to be able to see more wildlife due to the dying back of the thick vegetation; we have the opportunity to view migrating winter bird species; and, most importantly, the fall and winter seasons offer minimal disturbance to the critically endangered Mississippi sandhill crane.”
 
Perez explained that the tour season ends in late winter or early spring, as this coincides with the start of nesting season for the cranes – this minimizes any potential disturbance to the birds during a very important and vulnerable time. 
 
She added that crane sightings are not guaranteed on these tours, as they are critically endangered with only about 120 individuals left in the wild. 
 
“While it’s typical that we do see at least a few cranes on any given tour, we often see other wildlife such as bald eagles, white-tailed deer, rabbits, turkey and many different species of migratory birds that are often difficult to spot in other places,” Perez said. “It’s also a great opportunity to go ‘behind the scenes’ with a staff member and see the pine savanna habitat, which is also rare.” 
 
The tours are suited for all abilities, from the beginning wildlife watcher to the advanced birder. They last about two hours, and the refuge encourages participants to wear layers for comfort. Due to the length of the tour, though, it may not be suitable for very young children. 
 
“A crane tour is a unique opportunity to see one of the most rare species and habitat types on the planet,” Perez said. “They are free of charge and a great way for a family to spend a morning enjoying all of the unique natural wonders the Mississippi Gulf Coast provides.” 
 
All crane tours begin at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located at 7200 Crane Lane in Gautier. The tours depart at 8 a.m., and reservations are required.Crane Tours for the month of January will be held on January 6, 10, 17, 20 and 24th. For more information or to make a reservation, please call 228-497-6322 ext 101. For upcoming tour dates (and other programming at the refuge) visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Mississippi_Sandhill_Crane/.
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Learn about Wildlife, Conservation at Crane Fest 2017

23334303_10155200077398215_1353545782970217622_o Learn about Wildlife, Conservation at Crane Fest 2017

Families wanting some outdoor adventure this weekend can participate in the 2017 Crane Fest at the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.

From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, Crane Fest will feature a variety of activities ranging from archery and air rifle demos, to meeting live birds of prey, boat tours, traditional Choctaw dance and music and more.

Melissa Perez from the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge said the event will have something for every member of the family from children to adults.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to get behind the scenes of what we do here at the refuge,” Perez said. “It’s a completely free event and will have a lot of fun activities for everyone.”

Perez said some of the highlights include the live presentations with hawks, owls and falcons from the Environmental Studies Center, as well as insects from all over the world in the Audubon Institute’s BugMobile. In addition, there will be special demonstrations of traditional Choctaw dance and music, guided native plant tours and eco-tours through cruises on the bayou. If weather permits, the afternoon will finish with a prescribed burn demonstration and a discussion about how prescribed burns are used to conserve the habitat.

Running concurrently will be a Festival of Conservation, where 16 conservation-minded partner organizations from around the area will have interactive, hands-on activities and booths to celebrate 42 years of conservation. 

“We can’t do it alone,” Perez said. “This is a chance for visitors to meet our partners and see the work they do, too.”

Perez said the pine savanna habitat at the refuge is extremely unique to the area and the United States, and the festival hopes to create a greater appreciation of it and the conservation efforts through all the different activities and presentations. 

“This will be a great educational open house event,” Perez said. “It also offers the chance for families to get outdoors and have fun.”

For more information about the event visit https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Mississippi_Sandhill_Crane/visitor_activities/40th_Anniversary_Celebration/.

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Pascagoula-Gautier School District Receives $25,000 Grant for Bilingual Library

Screen-Shot-2017-11-20-at-3.35.33-PM Pascagoula-Gautier School District Receives $25,000 Grant for Bilingual Library

Families in Jackson County now have the opportunity to become more bi-literate at the Aaron Jones Family Interactive Center.

The Pascagoula-Gautier School District received a $25,000 State Farm Neighborhood grant to develop a bilingual resource library in an effort to help children and parents in the community. According to State Farm, the program “helps worthwhile nonprofit organizations across the U.S., offering $25,000 grants for neighborhood projects involved in education, safety and community development.”

Kelli McCorkle, the director of the early beginnings program, said that while the Aaron Jones Family Interactive Center also holds the Excel by 5 library, this is an opportunity for families to receive more support with bilingual needs.

“One of our main goals is bi-literacy,” McCorkle said. “We want parents to get involved with reading and use this support before their children enter school.”

McCorkle said that her time as a past school administrator made her aware of the challenges to those students who don’t speak English. She explained that a long-term goal of the library is to support graduation down the road.

“The resource library will help children prepare for kindergarten,” McCorkle said. “When children are more prepared starting at the pre-kindergarten level, you see increased graduation rates, an increase of those who own homes, and more.”

While many of the materials available at the library are in Spanish, McCorkle said there is a variety of materials in many languages, such as Vietnamese or American Sign Language. In addition, there are many different types of activities, including a listening center that incorporates new technologies.

The hours for the library vary. On Monday and Friday from 9 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3 p.m., the library is open where students and parents can interact or checkout books, with hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. While only those in Pascagoula and Gautier will be able to checkout materials, anyone is welcome to come into the center and interact.

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Terrance Trussell Wins Hickory Hills Golf Tournament

IMG_3901 Terrance Trussell Wins Hickory Hills Golf Tournament

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Hickory Hills Country Club hosted their annual Men’s Club Championship last weekend at the Gautier clubhouse. Terrance Trussell won the tournament, beating out fourteen other players in the two-day tournament. 

Trussell shot 77-79, making a 156 total and won the tournament by one stroke. To add to the pressure of the game, there was a 3o mph wind speed making it difficult for the golfers to play their best. “It was really windy and cold for the golfers”, says Phil Paslawsky, a representative from Hickory Hills Country Club. “It was tougher on the players, making the club selection tougher for them to have more patience and concentration”, he said. 

But, Trussell was not going to let the weather stand in his way of taking home the trophy. Trussell has had his eyes on the prize for a long time. “I’ve been wanting to win the club championship for several years now, but I could never get a break through”, says 41-year-old Trussell. His mother used to work at the club house, so he’s been preparing for this win ever since he grew up playing on the course. “I’m glad I finally won”, he added. “Everyone that’s a golfer wants to win their club championship”, he said. 

Trussell says his next game he’s preparing for is the KOS Cup. This tournament is where the champions of Hickory Hills battle the champions of Shell Landing Golf Club to take back the trophy. 

For more information on Hickory Hills Country Club or their tournaments, visit http://www.mississippinational.com or call (228)-497-2372. 

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Gautier’s Mullet Festival Hopes to Draw Crowds and Offer Family Fun

Mullet-Fest-Image Gautier's Mullet Festival Hopes to Draw Crowds and Offer Family Fun

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Gautier is gearing up for a day of fun and entertainment at its 27th Mullet and Music Festival, presented by Waste Pro, Mitchell Distributing, City of Gautier and Jackson County.  With events beginning at 9 a.m., the day features two music stages with all day performances including artists Kristian Cowart, the Highway Sisters, Amanda Jones Band, Deuces Wild and country music legend Ronnie McDowell. 

McDowell, who highlighted the festival two years ago, will return to the stage and perform from 7-9 p.m. followed by a fireworks show.“He brought a big crowd then, and we hope he will draw another great crowd this year,” said Jan McQuillen, chair of the festival.

Over 100 craft and food vendors will be on site to sell their wares and delectable treats. “We’ve had some returning vendors and have new vendors from all over,” adds McQuillen.

Also available on Saturday will be the official festival print from artist Willie Dees. Dees print, “The Magic of the Mullet Festival,” was selected as the winner for this year’s Mullet Festival art competition.

Car enthusiasts can take part in the Car and Truck Show from 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.   On site registration is available for the classic car show, and cash awards will be given to the crowd’s favorite.

Children are included in this year’s event and can enjoy the day at the Kids Zone, an area especially for them. The Kids Zone includes includes bounce houses, McDonald’s Play and Learn Zone, bubble balls and concludes with a glow stick disco party from 7-9 p.m.

You can even bring your pets to the Bicentennial Pet Parade from 1-2 p.m. Pet owners are encouraged to dress their pets in bicentennial attire, and prizes will be given for best costumes

“This is Gautier’s biggest festival, and we are hoping to draw a crowd to our city and bring our community together for a day of fun,” said McQuillen. “In year’s past, we’ve had 10,000-15,000 people at the festival, and we are hoping for good weather and a good crowd”

For more information on the festival, contact McQuillen at 228-215-0828 or check out their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/gautiermulletfest/.

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Gautier: Meet your new Mayor Phil Torjusen

IMG_7268-e1498708827126-300x300 Gautier: Meet your new Mayor Phil TorjusenGautier, meet your new mayor Phil Torjusen.

Mayor Torjusen is a native of south Jackson county, and a resident of Gautier since 1984. Mayor Torjusen and his wife have been married 34 years and have raised four kids right here in Gautier. They still reside in the same house they built in 1988. His past career experience is with Nationwide Resort Development Company and Nationwide Campgrounds, and now works primarily in commercial and residential real estate. Mayor Torjusen has also served on the Gautier planning commission and the civil service commission for the past 12 years in various roles.

“I never pictured myself in political office, but it kind of evolved. I think this year with the national election people got more in tune and more engaged with any election they have in their whole life. To me, it was a very critical election for the future of this entire country. I think it’s going to try to right the ship so to speak and it really encouraged me to jump into the race. I saw an opportunity for me to better apply my experience to use it better than what I was using it as,” explains Torjusen. He also explains, “I had some people approach me about running for Gautier’s mayor and I just waited to see what would happen, I actually didn’t get into the race until there was fifteen minutes left for qualifying. Nobody jumped in to run against the incumbent, so I did.”

Mayor Torjusen plans to use the economy that is moving nationwide. Some plans he has is using his knowledge of building infrastructures for campgrounds and resorts regarding quality water and sewage at a fair price. He also wants to improve the infrastructure in order to properly do economic development. “We lost our revenue and tax stream when the mall was demolished, and we haven’t replaced it. Our citizens services were cut due to that. We have a low paying police force, a low paying fire department, the lowest on the coast. We need to get our revenue right and improve cash flow so we can stabilize these issues for our citizens,” says the new mayor.

Phil Torjusen is a graduate of Pascagoula High School and University of Mississippi in 1978.

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Teacher lays foundation for academic career

Mrs.-Young Teacher lays foundation for academic career

It seems like kindergarten used to just be nap time, the alphabet and chocolate milk. However, times have changed, and children are expected to know so much more, from computer skills to narrative writing. Considering for some children it is their first time in a classroom, it is a lot to learn in a year. This is where teachers like Margaret Young come in.

“I have been teaching kindergarten at Gautier Elementary School for 10 years now,” Young said. “Before that I taught 2nd grade for two years.”

As a kindergarten teacher, Margaret works to make her classroom a fun learning environment.

“I have tried to foster a family relationship in my classroom,” she explained. “We do a lot of talking and sharing of feelings and emotions and ideas. We do learning through music, movements and gestures to help the students remember the lessons. I have learning centers to incorporate art and games to make them want to learn.”

Making learning engaging for the students can make it easier for them to learn the more challenging coursework.

“The work is very rigorous now, so that’s why I try to make it fun,” Young said. “Now they are writing narratives and informational text by the end of the year. They know how to read data because they have to do that on the computer every day. It is more challenging now than in previous years. We in Mississippi were falling behind in education in the nation, but now we have some of the most rigorous standards so we can catch up. It’s a lot of work, and there are tears from the kids, but they are excited to learn.”

Margaret was inspired to be a teacher by one of life’s first role models: her mother.

Mrs.-Young Teacher lays foundation for academic career
Mrs.-Young Teacher lays foundation for academic career

“My mom was as assistant teacher who worked in kindergarten and special education, so I’ve always been in that environment,” she recalled. “I’ve always loved little kids, even when I was a little kid. I’ve always sort of had this parental instinct and used to pretend to play teacher. I’ve also had some really great teachers, especially one of my math teachers at Colmer Middle School. I was having trouble in math, and she would always work with me and stay with me after school without getting paid anything extra to help me.”

As a kindergarten teacher, Margaret is often working with students who have never been in a classroom environment before.

“I would say my class is about half and half,” she said. “Some kids how been in a pre-k class or Head Start program, but it is an even split between those children and the children who are coming straight from home. They do cry the first few weeks because they miss being at home, but we use that time to teach them the rules and routines to make them more comfortable in the classroom. At that age, children really want to please you and do the right thing. The only challenge comes in that there’s 24 students to teach everything to between just my assistant and myself. But they see the reward, so they want to learn.”

As the school year comes to an end, it is once again time for the students to say good bye to Ms. Young as they move to the 1st grade.

Mrs.-Young Teacher lays foundation for academic career

“In these last few weeks, I’m trying to make sure they are excited to move on and prepare them for the 1st grade,” Young explained. “I know all of the teachers they are moving to, so I’m not worried about them having a good experience next year. I’m happy to see how they’ve grown.”

Mrs.-Young Teacher lays foundation for academic career

 

Pay it Forward Fridays:

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

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Gautier holds first farmer’s market

market-1 Gautier holds first farmer's market
market-1 Gautier holds first farmer's market

Gautier residents have a new place to shop for their summer produce. May 13 saw Gautier’s first farmer’s market of the season.

Located in George Martin City Park from 8 a.m. until noon, visitors were offered selections from numerous local vendors. 

“We had Havens Down Home Creamery selling milk, eggs, cheese, and grass-fed beef,” said April Havens, Grants and Projects Administrator for the City of Gautier. “We had Gautier Gold Honey, Butts’ Bees Honey, and Island Sweets by Kay and Tay selling cakes, pies, pretzels, and popcorn. There we also local growers of vegetables of fruits selling things like snap beans, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, cucumbers, okra, fruit trees, shrubs, flowering plants and so many more.”

Farmer’s market are such a valuable resource due to the unique products they offer.

“It’s important for residents to support their local growers, who provide healthy and wholesome items at a good price,’ Havens explained. “It supports our local economy, encourages our entrepreneurs, and provides delicious options for our dinner tables. Markets such as these make fresh good easily accessible to our community.”

While this is the city’s first farmer’s market, Havens hopes it becomes a staple in the community.

“We plan to hold one the second Saturday of every month from May through October, though additional weekends may be added based on the overwhelming response from the first event,” Havens said.

The next market will be held June 10.

 

market-1 Gautier holds first farmer's market
market-1 Gautier holds first farmer's market
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Bacot McCarty experiences ‘Jolly’ weekend

It’s that “Jolly” time of year again. This weekend saw the return of the Bacot McCarty Foundation‘s annual two-day fundraising event, which consisted of a Gala held at the IP Casino & Golf Classic at Shell Landing.

The Jolly is the foundation’s largest fundraiser, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to help improve the lives of young people through educational and cultural programs across south Mississippi.

This year’s Gala had an “Austin Powers” theme, filled with costumes, bright lights and even a go-go dancer or four. Music was provided by Doctor Zarr’s Amazing Funk Monster. Various items were donated from community members and organizations for a silent auction to benefit numerous Gulf Coast charities, such as the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center and the American Heart Association.

Appearances through the night were made by the Ocean Springs, Gautier, and Pascagoula high school’s cheerleaders, the Pascagoula High School drum line and even Miss Mississippi Laura Lee Lewis.

Saturday, participants gathered at the Shell Landing Golf Club in Gautier for the golf tournament, which has become one of the largest golf classics in Jackson County history. Executive Director Todd Trenchard started the morning by once again thanking all who participated in the weekend’s events to raise money for youth education and all of their continued support of the foundation.

This year’s event was a great success, with $30,000 more raised at the beginning of the gala than previous years. While participants had fun, everyone remembered that they were all there for one reason: the children.

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Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

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Imagine that you have never visited Jackson County before. You aren’t from the area at all, and you want to know what to do on your first visit. Considering this area of Mississippi is home to one of the largest free-flowing rivers in the United States, that is a site that should definitely make the agenda, and one of the best ways to see it is through Eco-Tours of South Mississippi.

 

Owned and operated solely by Captain Kathy and Jeff Wilkinson, the couple bought the business in the spring of 2006 after Hurricane Katrina.

“My husband and I have had boats and spent time on the water our wholes lives, so it was just a natural progression,” said Kathy Wilkinson. “All along we had hoped to do some kind of business that involved boats. We tossed around a lot of ideas over the years, and we settled on the eco-tours because the river is such a valuable resource. We thought it was important for people to get out and see it and the wild life and ecosystem first hand. They can also see the importance of conserving it because it’s such a unique resource.”

 

17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation
17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

They enjoy being one of the unique small businesses in the Jackson County community.

“We’ve had guests from all over the world,” Kathy explained. “We feel like we’re making a good contribution to the economic impact that tourism has on our area. Visitors tell us they will plan their eco-tour before they even leave their homes, so they ask us where to stay and where to eat. That gives us a chance to refer them to local small businesses, and we enjoy that opportunity. Your typical eco-tourist appreciated the opportunity to patronize small businesses.”

 

The couple also works to do community outreach with their small business.

“This Saturday we are partnering with the city of Gautier for Earth Day and offering free boat tours,” she mentioned. “We also do little outreach events through out the year like that one. We will donate boat trips to charities and fundraisers. In fact, one of the offshoots of our Eco-Tours business is that my husband started a nonprofit to promote having litter-free waterways.”

Kathy said there were instances when she would be conducting a boat tour and as the boat turned a bend, there would be coolers and refrigerators littering the area.

“It distracts from the message that this is supposed to be a pristine, natural environment. It’s kind of shocking for some people to see that, but it also relays to people the importance of volunteering in the community. When I hear people complain about any trash they may see, I tell them don’t wait for the city to do it but to go out yourself. I try to stress the importance of securing things so they don’t blow out of your boat or truck and get washed into the river.”

The Wilkinsons will try to pick up any trash they do come across during any tours, but it’s not easy keeping the area clean.

“We don’t go out looking for trash or make it it a mission to pick up all the trash because we just wouldn’t finish our tours in time if we picked up every piece of trash we saw.”

Not only does the business offer motorboat tours, but also kayak tours, overnight trips and rides out to the barrier islands. 

“We started our business doing two-hour motorboat tours. We spent more and more time doing those motorboat tours and I ended up not having time for my personal kayaking, so I decided to add that to the business. We decided to add the trips to the barrier islands because we love to go out to Horn Island and Petit Bois Island, which are both nationally designated wilderness areas. We like going to those islands because not everyone gets the chance. There aren’t any ferries going to those islands, and I hope there never are. Ship Island, for example, is a lot more developed, but Horn Island and Petit Bois Island aren’t like that. It’s not for everyone, but it’s something really special and unique for people to do. We figured the more services we offered, the more opportunities have to serve people.”

Because the couple are the only ones that operate the business, they have a lot of responsibility.”

“We work really hard and work year-round. We do everything. We maintain the boats and wash kayaks and do the tours. We when have overnight trips we do all the food prep. We work together to do it all, so it’s a really good bond for us too. We enjoy working the business together.”

However, this also offers some flexibility.

“We’re able to offer tours all year long and we can customize our trips to do just about anything, except fish and jet ski.”

17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation
17758573_10154729347034412_7066742658905596963_o Coast couple uses business to explore waterways, promote conservation

While they do operate a business, the Wilkinsons are still very passionate about conserving the Pascagoula River.

“It’s a great experience, taking people out there. It’s another opportunity to show people how important it is to conserve natural resources and preserve our area. It’s unique in its designation as a wilderness area. It gets to be a teaching moment. Like, the ride out to the barrier islands is interesting because you can see different sea birds and dolphins and stingrays. At this time of year the water is really clear. It’s not necessarily a secret because a lot of locals go out, but some people don’t really understand what a barrier island is or where they are located. It’s really a great experience.”

After speaking with Kathy about the business, it is clear this couple is passionate about what they do.

“If you can find a business to do that’s your passion, it’s not like work at all; it’s just fun. We get to meet people from all over the world, and they are just like sponges. They are ready to be informed and they’re interested. I feel like it is a privilege for us to be able to do this, and the fact that we make money from it is icing on the cake.”

To get your own Eco-Tour experience, visit their website for details and call to book a reservation.

Pay it Forward Fridays:

JaxCoHome would love to hear about people doing good in our community. If you know someone that is a champion for our community, the environment, education or local business, fill out the nomination form by clicking here.

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