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Paddlers enjoy canoe trip to swamp area at wildlife refuge

NATCHEZ — Theresa Graves had never been to the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge before Saturday.

But now that she’s had a taste of the great outdoors at the refuge, she plans on returning.

Graves, along with her husband Randy and daughter Miranda, were among the second group of people that went on the refuge’s Second Saturday canoe trip Saturday.

“I read about it in The Democrat, and I had never been (to the refuge), so I said, ‘I’d like to try something new,’” Graves said.

“It was beautiful. I can’t wait until the next outing, which they said would be every second Saturday (of the month), so we’ll be there every time. I made a new friend here named Diana, and we said we wanted to get a Second Saturday club going.”

Beverly Walden, who was joined by her ex-husband Bill Couch, was also among the visitors in the second group. Walden said Couch’s interest was in the various birds they saw on the trip, but she wanted to get out and do something active.

“Bill bought a kayak a while back, but we hadn’t been on the water yet, so we thought this would be a good trip. I also lost my grandson a week ago, so we thought it would be good for us to get out,” Walden said.

The first group left at 7 a.m. and the second at 9:30 p.m., with each trip lasting roughly an hour and a half. The riders paddled around the area of the refuge known as The Swamp, a place where Cypress trees grow and bird use as a rookery.

Although she enjoyed the trip once she got going, Graves admitted being anxious about it the night before.

“I was having dreams of alligators nipping at my toes, and I was afraid I’d tip the canoe and get an alligator or a snake on me,” Graves said.

“Once I got in though, the beauty of it made the fear leave. Plus, the boat was actually really stable.”

Refuge Manager Bob Strader said he was pleased with the turnout, since it helps get people involved with non-consumptive aspects of the refuge.

“It’s really encouraging, the number of people that came. The last two events were set up really well during bird mating season, but our turnout for those was low,” Strader said.

“This place is well known to hunters and fishermen, but our non-consumptive use is pretty low. We want to try and get the refuge more integrated into the community.

“We got six new members for our group, Friends of St. Catherine’s Creek. We also had three people want to come back and volunteer, so it makes our group grow and makes them more diverse.”

In fact, Strader said interest in the canoe trip was so strong that he ended up having to turn people away.

“It’s discouraging that we don’t have the people and facilities to work with more people and do events like this more frequently,” Strader said.

“Today we had three permanent and two temporary employees with us, as well as at least four to five Friends group members. There’s a lot of work in putting this on that goes on behind the scenes.”

And some behind-the-scenes information about the refuge was presented to the visitors Saturday.

“The bluffs on the eastern edge of the refuge were heavily utilized by Native Americans and early American settlers,” Strader said on the trip.

“They provided steady access to flood points and hunting and fishing. They also used the bluff line to catch wind drafts, to keep cool during the summer and keep the bugs off, or move during the winter and protect from the north wind. The bluff is littered with archaeological sites.”

With so much to offer, Walden, who is from Sontag, said she plans on coming back to the refuge again.

“I’ll definitely bring members of the family here. I think they would enjoy it. Besides the Pilgrimage, this is my interest (in Natchez),” she said.

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