Vice Chancellor LouAnn Woodward of the UMMC – “Wear a damn mask”.
Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves – “I don’t care who controls the damn money.”
U. S. Attorney General Bill Barr – “I’m gonna answer the damn question.”
These were comments just last week by officials needing to express their “feelings”. Well sometimes you do need to let folks know how you really feel. I too used the most prominent word in those quotes last week when talking to a MDWFP employee when I called to inquire about when Shipland WMA might be open. Shipland WMA is on the river side of the MS river levee and has been closed, first due to high water now due to completion of road repairs.
I only made the comment when the person volunteered to me that it was his or maybe the MDWFP’s intent to “end our fun at the jetties” by closing the existing sandy, dirt road to all traffic except ATV. I’m not entirely sure if this volunteered comment was to incite me or whether it was real, but it was real enough for me to reply back that Shipland provided the only “damn access” (public access) to the MS river for anyone without a big boat with good mechanical integrity and on-the-river experience to run it. Specifically, me.
Our contentious exchange prompted me to write the following letter to the MDWFP Executive Director and, if necessary, the wildlife committee and commissioners will be getting their own copy, before September.
RE: Request for access at Shipland via light truck and automobile as soon as possible
Dear Dr. Polles,
Recently I inquired with the MDWFP about access to Shipland WMA. I had noticed the water had receded and the gauge levels were indicating levels at which our Fly Fishing Club accesses the side channels and dikes at the Shipland WMA. The reason for my call was to inquire as to when it might be open as I was planning a club trip there and the website for the WMA indicated the WMA was closed and behind a locked gate. I do understand that the river damages the roads which require repair. The individual at MDWFP also volunteered the information his intent to mark the road through the sand fields down to the dikes as accessible by ATV only. As he stated, “below the headquarters building”. This, the MDWFP person said, was to eliminate the need “to repair the roads every year.” This road of course is nothing more than a sandy trail when I have traveled it, though I admit I have never seen it just after the river has receded, although a photo of road damage was provided by your staff. I can relate to water damage to dirt or sand roads, my hunting club members rent a bulldozer and bring equipment into our camp every year during the summer due to rains and logging. Actually the photo provided would be considered light work compared to the work we have to do in the loess hills near Port Gibson.
For years my friends and club members have been able to drive a pickup truck to one of the lower jetties (actually the lowest jetty is already behind an ATV only sign). Using a light pickup truck allows us to take a kayak and fairly easily access the side channel and the calm waters experienced below 20 feet on the Vicksburg gauge. The person at MDWFP appeared to have an attitude that indicated that the MDWFP seemed to think of Shipland as something either not worth maintaining or simply that the dept. does not want to maintain. I have been accessing and fishing the side channel and main channel’s dikes for at least ten years and was actually introduced to the area through a friend that had been going there since before it was a WMA. I am not sure if Shipland WMA is state owned or USACE. If USACE I would think any maintenance there is funded by USACE. I read an article by Larry Castle of the MDWFP recently that indicated “state-owned WMAs receive more effort because MDWFP controls them and can manage them to provide quality experiences for users. In the case of US Army Corps of Engineers’ properties that are managed as state WMAs, Castle said operations are funded by USACE.” This article can be found at https://www.clarionledger.com/story/sports/outdoors/2018/05/10/mississippi-deer-ducks-public-hunting-land/594578002/
The Mississippi River is an incredible resource for fishing, wildlife viewing, kayaking, watching the river traffic, fossil hunting and basically just escaping the crowds, but though it winds along the entire length of the Western boundary of Mississippi the public has few options to access it. Can you imagine the Rocky Mountains with no access to the public by those living in Western States? It is unthinkable. There are a few public ramps on the river, but those areas require a substantial investment in boating and also in boating skills. Many of us do not have those resources nor do we desire to access the river in that manner. Many of us can enjoy catching a few white bass, striper, flathead or even enjoy catching some of the numerous species of rough fish for sport only. Or simply enjoy the view.
It appears the state is primarily concerned about deer hunting at Shipland, but, likely due to CWD and high water, I notice that only 3 bucks and 3 does were taken at the Shipland WMA in 2019. Fishing, bird watching, kayaking do not seem to command any attention though those areas of interest are unaffected by CWD and high water. Denying or further limiting the public’s access to the river at Shipland would be contradicting the educational material I have seen published by the LRMCC, the USACE and even the MDWFP website for the WMA.
I am not familiar as to whether Shipland is USACE owned or state-owned; however, I do know that it does not receive nearly the attention of the other WMAs. Our members also sometimes dove hunt the WMA. It does not usually have any plantings, possibly only burning or some bushogging, but then a few doves will usually come in, mostly because I think they utilize the river. We call this the “Delta Combo” when we come to fish the jetties in the morning and dove hunt the afternoon opening time. I have also bow hunted deer at Shipland with my son and others and we enjoyed it very much.
Our club is not making a case for any additional plantings, concrete ramps, walkways etc. for Shipland. I realize the river-side location presents special challenges, but I do want to emphasize the fact that we utilize the public access to the side channel and main channel dikes and would like to continue that access. It was also suggested to me that making the access ATV-only would cut down on misuse of the road by certain law violators. I can’t speak to that as our fly fishing club has only the most responsible members. Many of our members are retired MDWFP personnel and support the intent of this letter which is to ask for continued access to our state’s greatest natural resource, our namesake, the Mississippi River. We are not asking for access to any new areas, only for continued access to the MS River below the headquarters via light truck and automobile, as soon as possible.
I have since learned the 3,500 acres comprising Shipland was donated to the state by the Nature Conservancy. I happen to be familiar with the Nature Conservancy land-to-govt process as I once worked with them in attempting to have family land acquired by them so that Panther Swamp could in turn acquire it. My efforts were unsuccessful but I did learn from the experience and I suspect that private individuals worked with the Nature Conservancy in the same manner. Outdoorsman do appreciate these efforts. Many hunters I know that hunt Copiah WMA still refer to it as “Henneberry” because it was donated by the Hennebery family and the hunters that know this, continue to appreciate it.
So, do you think the original private donors or the Nature Conservancy itself would approve of the MDWFP making the WMA pretty much deer hunting only without making the river itself accessible? I like to think they would not. Even the WMA website refers to the type of utilization. You see, we’re not asking for anything new, just to continue to allow access as we have been.
From the WMA’s own website:
Although there is not a boat ramp on the area providing access into the river, there are places a small boat can be launched from the bank, if the river is not too low. Primitive camping is also allowed on the area.
Shipland WMA is also a very good area for bird watching. The borrow areas adjacent to the main line levee, and the sand dunes in the river provide excellent areas to see shorebirds and waterfowl. Shipland is far enough west that the spring and fall migration of Neotropical migrants may bring in birds not normally seen in most areas of Mississippi.
Of course, “someone” may have just been jerking my chain. If so, he jerked it just enough.