Today's Mississippi Gulf Coast is known for its beautiful Las Vegas-style casinos, luxury hotels and condominiums, brand-name restaurants and other attractions. While much of our history was lost to Hurricane Katrina, many antebellum homes and buildings survived - including "Beauvoir," the last home of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy. We will soon open the Frank Gehry-designed Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, already heralded in publications around the world. That museum will join another widely acclaimed museum dedicated to a Mississippi Coast native son, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art.
This Web site is filled with things to do and places to go to make your visit to the Mississippi Coast a memorable one. But before any of these attractions came, visitors were drawn to our beachfront.
In fact, the white sand beach is a man-made one, built half a century ago to protect Beach Boulevard as much as it was to be a tourist attraction. But even without today's sand beach, the "beachfront" has drawn visitors and vacationers ever since Pierre LeMoyne d'Iberville ventured ashore on his quest to find the mouth of the Mississippi River.
It was just offshore that French explorers celebrated the first Mardi Gras in North America. For generations, Americans from every corner of the country have found their way to the Mississippi Coast to enjoy the sunshine, the warm waters, the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the Live oaks. In fact, this is one of only a few places in the world where ancient Live oaks grow all the way to the waterline, and annual pilgrimages bring hundreds of naturalists each year to enjoy our oaks - many of whom, if they could only speak, could give first-person accounts of the landing of d'Iberville and the other European explorers whose visited here under flags of Spain, France and England before there ever was a United States of America.
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Sunrise to sunset and all through the night, the waves of the Mississippi Sound smooth the sands of the Mississippi Coast's shoreline.
As natural as that rhythm seems, it is a constant struggle to maintain South Mississippi's most valuable "natural" attraction.
And since Hurricane Katrina, the struggle has been Herculean. The storm surge washed countless grains of sand back into the Sound and deposited immeasurable debris in its wake.
But the debris removal - from both the beach and the Sound - and the replenishment of the sand is creating unrivaled stretches of waterfront along Beach Boulevard.
And we are moving closer and closer to the reconstruction of comfort stations and the replacement of the boardwalk up and down the beachfront.
We have, south of Beach Boulevard, a setting worthy of the sunrises and sunsets and moonlit waters of the Sound.
It will provide for many residents and visitors alike the playground for "a day at the beach." For others, it offers long stretches for tranquil strolls.
And the beach offers something else: In many ways, it is a reminder of and testament to just how strong and resilient a community can be.
The devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina is unmatched in American history. To someone who did not see the Mississippi Coast in those days immediately following Aug. 29, 2005, words cannot describe the destruction.
But our people - from city hall and county offices to residents unsure of where they'd be living the next day - all agreed: We've got to clean up our beach and preserve the beauty that brought us here. And, as you can see, our beach - our soul - is back.
Sunrise to sunset and all through the night.