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Enjoying the great outdoors in East Jackson County

Last weekend, I spent a lot of time in nature in East Jackson County, and discovered I moved to an outdoor paradise.

I spent two days on a retreat with the Leadership Jackson County class of 2013 that included a ropes course led by by Brent Holifield, coordinator of campus recreation at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College Jackson County.

The course is designed for team building, but also serves as quite the confidence builder. Nothing like climbing a telephone pole up 35 feet (makes you feel a little like a lineman restoring someone’s service), then traversing a steel wire while holding onto a loose rope. Fortunately, Katie Gennarelli, MGCCC outdoor recreation leadership intern this semester, had me on belay and guided class members across the line, a wooden bridge and a spinning pole, all suspended three stories high. (Thanks, Katie for catching me when I lost my balance.)

Holifield and his staff were great at guiding us through the ropes course, which included ground-level activities, several higher, swaying lines and a rock wall.

The ropes course is located at the Estuarine Education Center on the Gautier campus, a beautiful facility with two classrooms, a pavilion, trails and plenty of outdoor space.

Holifield said the ropes course hosts several groups each year and the frequency “varies with the season especially when we have a lot of field trips happening at the end of the semester.”

Corporate groups, such as Ingalls and Mississippi Power, use the course, and in addition to school field trips, many youth groups participate.

“And we’re having more and more athletic teams coming out, which is something we’re excited about,” he said.

The groups are mostly sixth grade and up because “you have to be a certain age to grasp what we’re doing out there,” he said.

Thanks to Dr. Carmen J. Walters, vice president of the MGCCC Jackson County campus, for the welcome we received. It was a great experience, and it’s a great facility. Check it out if you need a retreat or classroom space.

Because I had already spent time outdoors, I decided to scout out other great outdoor locations in East Jackson County, which led me to Shepard State Park in Gautier on Saturday.

Just the drive down Graveline Road to the entrance of the park is beautiful, with bayous and tributaries along the way.

The park is 395 acres of trees, wildlife, hiking and biking trails and even a disc golf course. There are campsites as well (a group of Boy Scouts from Mobile were there on this particular weekend), boat ramps and picnic areas.

Late last year, the city of Gautier took over operation and maintenance of the park from the state Department of Wildlife.

Gautier City Manager Samantha Abell said at the time that the state department planned to close the park due to a tight budget. But, with the action by Gautier, it will remain a state park.

Revenue from the park will allow the city to have a full-time employee to work with inmates for repairs and upgrades to the park.

The city also plans park improvements in fiscal year 2014. Some improvements will come from applying for grants, such as the Recreation Trails Grant, which will allow the city to add and improve nature trails.

On Sunday, my explorations kept me closer to home and more familiar territory - the beach in Pascagoula. It was a gorgeous day, under sunny skies, on a beautiful, white stretch of beach. I watched as my companion - a three-year-old - built sandcastles, and we oohed and aahed each time a fishing boat zoomed by in the Mississippi Sound.

Around the curve at The Point, we made friends with a pelican we named “Puddles.”

All in all, it was a great holiday weekend, spent mostly outside in East Jackson County. I can’t wait to explore some more next weekend.