Senator Wicker’s aides take trip down St.Catherine Creek

Published 11:59 pm Tuesday, May 18, 2010

NATCHEZ — Morgan Price Shands has reviewed plans to transform St. Catherine Creek into a recreational haven more times than he can count.

But it wasn’t until Wednesday afternoon that Shands truly experienced life on the creek.

Shands, a southern field representative for Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Wicker’s state field director Ryan Annison kayaked along a portion of the creek near Providence Park.

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The St. Catherine Project Committee, chaired by former Natchez Mayor Tony Byrne, invited Shands and Annison to Natchez.

“While the river is up, we thought it was a good chance to have them go out there,” Byrne said. “They’ve seen the engineering studies and videos, but there’s not a better way to experience the creek than to see it.”

Byrne said the committee has maintained close contact with Wicker, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) to acquire funding to place five dam-like structures called weirs along an 11-and-a-half mile section of the creek.

The weirs will cause the dammed portions of the creek to flood, allowing enough depth for canoeing, kayaking and fishing.

“I’ve seen the project on paper many times, but to come out here and see it for yourself, it gives you a different perspective. It’s so beautiful,” Shands said. “We’re happy to be here, and we’re going to take this back to the senator.”

Byrne said the project’s total cost is estimated at $55 million, but committee members agree it is best to request funding in increments rather than seek one lump sum.

The committee is working in conjunction with the National Resources Conservation Service to request $19 million to place two of the five weirs near the Grand Village of the Natchez Indians.

“Now, we’re trying to decide whether it is best to draft a separate bill for this or add on to the NRCS budget,” Byrne said.

The Mississippi Development Authority awarded the committee $75,000 to conduct a feasibility study, which concluded the creek was suitable for the project.

Keith Benoist, founder and director of the Phatwater Kayak Challenge, led Shands and Annison on the tour. A strong proponent of recreational activities along the creek, Benoist said the project would not only improve economic activity, but also overall health and well-being.

“The more interest we put in recreation on the Mississippi River, the further chance we have at developing Natchez,” Benoist said. “My primary interest is getting more people involved in outdoor recreation, and this project means free open access for anyone to come have a good time in the outdoors.”

Other legislator representatives are expected to tour the creek in the coming days. Byrne said a representative from Harper’s office will tour the creek Friday.