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VOL. 123 | NO. 25 | Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Corps Study to Determine Miss. River Recreation, Access

By Bill Dries

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CAUSE FOR PAUSE: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is beginning a reconnaissance study of the Mississippi River from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans. It will include the stretch of the river that rolls past the Mud Island Greenbelt Park. -- Photo By Bill Dries

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is about to begin a sort of ecological inventory of the lower Mississippi River, from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans and including Memphis.

It's called a reconnaissance study and is expected to take about a year and a half. It involves a 2.7 million-acre flood plain that is almost as big as the Florida Everglades.

"A lot more people are looking at the river for recreation - for fishing, boating and that sort of stuff. And there's just not a whole lot of recreation access up and down the river compared to other areas," said Ed Lambert, chief of the environmental branch of the Corps' Memphis office. "There's a lot of private property. ... That's one of the things the study team will be looking at, assessing the need for recreation and the access for the recreation."

If the team sees a federal need for further help, a feasibility study would be the next step to consider an action plan to develop that access or public amenity.

"Right now there's more interest in it, but it might be an underutilized resource strictly because people don't have more access to it," Lambert said.

Ultimately, though, it's hoped by the Corps that the reconnaissance work will be used by local leaders to come up with their own plans. Those plans would draw tourists interested in nature, especially in poor and struggling communities in the lower Mississippi valley.

Leighann Gipson, project manager, said the lower Mississippi "remains one of the most productive freshwater ecosystems in the world."

The reconnaissance study is the result of a 2000 Congressional act that also calls for assessments involving the Corps' best-known function of river-related management as well as natural resource habitat needs and river-related recreation and access.

Lambert said the Corps will work with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and a conservation commission. The Corps already has $246,000 budgeted with another $254,000 possible if needed.


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