Wildlife refuge works to extend Magnolia Trail

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 7, 2010

NATCHEZ — Friday’s rains temporarily halted the project to extend the Magnolia Trail at the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, but the showers didn’t dampen volunteers’ spirits.

“It may not be the best weather, but it’s definitely cooler. It’s been extremely hot out here,” said Youth Conservation Corps volunteer Amber Merell, a senior environmental communications major at Berry College in Rome, Ga.

Refuge equipment operation Curt Freeman began work to extend the trail four weeks ago, and most of the one-mile extension has been cleared to lay down crushed limestone.

“The trail started at the old refuge office, and we decided to extend it up to (the new office), tie to the kid’s pond and fishing pier, and come up by the (refuge entrance),” Freeman said.

“I hope in the next two weeks we’ll have people walking on it. Some people think this is just a hunting refuge, but it’s for everybody. There’s lots of opportunity to see different wildlife.”

Since May 25, YCC volunteers have assisted Freeman with extending the trail.

Merrell, a group leader, said she and YCC volunteers Chris Tucker and Raheem Frank, both seniors at Natchez High School, and Corey Williams, a junior at Vidalia High School, have spent their days trimming trees, cutting up roots and removing limbs from the trail route, which is flat at some points and steep at others.

“Pretty much the only thing we have to do by hand is clear (the trail) out … making sure the trail’s ready for the gravel,” Merrell said.

Once the rains ended Friday, Freeman hopped in a green John Deere tractor that deposits the crushed limestone onto the trail. Freeman said it takes 10 to 15 trips to the crushed limestone heap at the refuge to cover 200 yards on the trail route.

“It’s just time consuming to make those trips, but we’ll get it done,” Freeman said.

“We’re hoping to get more people out here hiking the trail,” Merrell said. “We’re making it nice out here for people to come.”

St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1990 and is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.