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Taking a Monthly Walk in Nature

A walk in the woods can be restful anytime of the year. Even in the heat of summer, getting out in the fresh air early or late in the day can help reduce our level of stress. For many of us, a regular walk in the neighborhood does that well enough. But what if you could take a regular walk with someone that can share a bit about the nature around you? That is the goal of the monthly Nature Discovery Tours at the Fontainebleau Trail in Ocean Springs.

For me and my friend Janet Wright, this trail is a favorite place to venture. From changes in which plants are blooming to which birds are singing, the Fontainebleau trail offers a regular chance to cover the same ground to watch the changes in the seasons and to celebrate the high level of biodiversity that exists here. The 1.6-mile long trail traverses or has views of several common habitat types, including Longleaf Forests, Bayhead Swamps, Tidal Marshes, and Wet Pine Savannas, managed for public use by the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge.

This trail is also a designated iNaturalist project site, where anyone using this free mobile app can identify and record the plants and animals they encounter. A number of common native plants across this site are also monitored as part of the Gulf Coast Phenology Trail, a project focused on documenting seasonal changes in plant development. For all of these reasons, and more, Janet and I volunteered to offer monthly walks on one of our favorite trails to celebrate what we love.

Begun in July of 2021, guided tours are offered on the first Saturday of each month, beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tours last from 1-1/2 to 2 hours during which we focus on showing hikers how the plants and critters across this site are changing with the season. Underlying themes include the biodiversity of plants and animals, the value of the wetland elements along the trail, and the role that periodic fire plays in shaping biodiversity.

Prior knowledge of nature is not a prerequisite. We can certainly put a scientific name to most things, but we also learn from the stories and personal experiences shared by the folks that walk the trail with us. For Janet and me, this is the best part of each trip we lead. We especially enjoy engaging with children that have a “million” questions, some of which can tax our memories and knowledge. And no question asked is a silly one!

During a recent walk, I recorded a short video of some of the more prominent plants that hikers could find along the trail. But those are only the obvious things that can be found. Blooms certainly make plants easier to find, but the hidden pieces and parts of nature along the trail are equally interesting to discover.

In addition to the Sandhill Crane Refuge, co-sponsors for these monthly walks are the Jackson County Recreation Department, the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society, and OurMSHome. Each hike is led by Janet, me, or another naturalist. We love to see returning hikers that we hope love the trail as much as we do. Hoping that you put the first Saturday of each month on your calendar and join us. For more information, contact Barb Medlock at Jackson County Recreation at (228) 826-5330.

Hope to see you in our great outdoors!

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Written by Mark W. LaSalle, Ph.D.

Mark is a naturalist and wetland ecologist, providing expertise on wetlands, water quality and environmental impacts of humans. He has also developed and conducted a number of environmental education programs and workshops for youth, teachers, realtors, and the general public on a variety of subjects including wetlands, natural history, and environmental landscaping. Mark is a graduate of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (B.S. and M.S. degrees) and Mississippi State University (Ph.D.). Mark is the recipient of the Chevron Conservation Award, the Mississippi Wildlife Federation Conservation Educator Award, the Gulf Guardian Award, and the Boy Scouts of America Silver Beaver Award.

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