Visions of recreation danced in the creek

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 25, 2008

There was a rare sighting along the banks of the St. Catherine Creek Wednesday afternoon.

Motorists on Lower Woodville Road crossing the bridge near the old International Paper site reported seeing visionaries. A man at an auto salvage yard on Highland Boulevard and a fisherman near Providence Road park also describe similar sights.

These visionaries were seen paddling upstream in a small flotilla of brightly colored kayaks.

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Normally a small stream winding along the city’s eastern edge, St. Catherine Creek river levels have risen recently with flood backwater from the Mississippi River.

On Wednesday, a group of local leaders and kayak enthusiasts invited the three candidates for Natchez mayor to paddle into the future.

This small group of visionaries (scientific name unknown) hopes to raise the waters of the creek and open it up for recreational purposes, like kayaking, canoeing and fishing.

Known as the St. Catherine Creek Project, plans are to strategically place weirs along the creek to raise the waters and create a series of lakes.

One fortuitous circumstance of recent flooding is that the water levels in the creek are similar to those proposed by the project.

To take advantage of the water levels, these visionaries took Phillip West, Jake Middleton and Chick Graning on a tour to demonstrate what the future could look like for St. Catherine Creek and for area recreation.

Visionaries can be strange and gifted birds.

While most of the world is living in the present, visionaries have a tendency to have their heads in the future. They see beyond what is tangible and real — an overgrown waterway and rough landscape littered with trash. Instead, with magnificent imagination, visionaries see a reclaimed stream revealing the natural history of Natchez.

Visionaries also see the path between the not-so-pretty present and the future. With assuredness and determination, they set forth to make it happen. Such was the scene Wednesday afternoon along the banks of St. Catherine Creek along Providence Road.

Kayakers Keith Benoist, Melissa Morrision, Brent Bourland, Jim Coy and Peggy Pierpont joined former Natchez mayor Tony Byrne and city engineer David Gardner to share their vision of the creek with the mayoral candidates.

The visionaries invited these aspiring office holders who may have roles in making the St. Catherine waterway accessible.

They also invite those of us who are uninvolved in the decision making and who don’t even own kayaks to be involved.

Watching the mayoral candidates paddle up and down a one-mile stretch of the creek from Providence Road to Spanish Bayou was a sight not to miss.

The most inspiring sight, though, wasn’t in the water. Instead it was on the creek bank watching this group of visionaries discuss their future plans for the area.

Thirty years ago Byrne developed the idea for the St. Catherine Creek Project.

The excitement and anticipation for this project has been rekindled in the minds and hearts of these local paddlers.

One talked of bird watching from a kayak; another spoke of floating by historical sites such as the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians; others talked of the ease of access to this astonishing wildlife habitat.

In a world where everyone is caught up in the present and where the high waters represent only trouble and concern, it takes visionaries like those gathered on the banks of St. Catherine Creek to show us the great untapped potential of the creek that runs through our collective backyard.

Thanks to the flooding of the Mississippi River we can now see what for them has existed in their heads. It is one time when high water is a good thing.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or