A project of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain

Watershed Description

The Old Fort Bayou Watershed lies solely in Jackson County. The watershed includes a fast-growing business corridor along Interstate 10. It also includes a rural landscape that is quickly converting into a more suburbanlandscape with residential homes and subdivisions.

Old Fort Bayou is a tidal creek navigable by canoe from Old Fort Bayou Road to the Biloxi Bay. It runs in a horseshoe shape: beginning in Latimer north of Interstate 10, it runs east toward highway 57, turns south into Ocean Springs then runs back to the west and its confluence with Biloxi Bay .

The bayou runs through many important natural areas: Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, The Nature Conservancy’s Old Fort Bayou mitigation property, Land Trust’s Twelve Oaks Conservation Park and Mississippi ’s Old Fort Bayou Coastal Preserve.

The bayou is a birdwatchers paradise: it is earth’s last home for the Mississippi Sandhill Crane. Also, Jackson County ’s waste-water lagoons and the bayou’s tidal marsh wetlands host hundreds of shorebirds and waterfowl. The bayou is a birdwatcher’s paradise: it is earth’s last home for the Mississippi Sandhill Crane. Also, Jackson County’s waste-water lagoons and the bayou’s tidal marsh wetlands host hundreds of shorebirds and waterfowl.

The upper watershed remains rural in nature with horse and cattle farms and rural estates; however, since Hurricane Katrina, the rural nature is quickly converting into a more suburban landscape with smaller-lot residential homes and subdivisions. The lower watershed is bordered by the St. Martin community to the north and the City of Ocean Springs to the south. Subdivisions are quickly becoming a primary source of non-point source pollution and creating added pressure along the bayou’s waterfront.

Old Fort Bayou was historically used by tourists; steamships came up from Biloxi Bay and visitors to the springs frequently canoed the bayou. Fishing, boating and birdwatching are the primary recreational uses on the bayou. City and county boat launches, unique dining, lodging and golfing are available to visitors and residents; this along with significant conservation areas makes the bayou an attractive waterway for locating a canoe and kayak trail.

Watershed Partnership

The Land Trust’s efforts to build a partnership for Old Fort Bayou began in August of 2006 with Donna Brown and Gary Young agreeing to co-host the first forum. The first community forum was held at Christus Victor Lutheratn Church on October 26, 2006. We especially thank Christine Olsenius and the Southeast Watershed Forum for their contributions to this project and for presenting the Economic Value of Habit Protection at the first forum. The second forum was a roundtable discussion at the Gulf Hills Hotel on March 20, 2007. We have learned much from the participants and are very appreciative of their participation; we especially thank Leah Bray, Donna Brown, Gary Young, Mary Marr Beckman, Shannon Moran, Anne Marie Moreton, Mike Murphy and Melanie Lane for their interests and time to meet and discuss the best ways to shape our direction.

This document is written to provide a strategic approach to watershed planning with particular focus on private sector participation in the process. We want to provide context and a brief overview of the ecological, cultural and scenic significance of Old Fort Bayou. This is a record of our planning efforts and an accounting of actions identified to address watershed concerns. The hope of participants is to foster better stewardship of the natural resources of the watershed.

Forum participants were asked, “What characteristics of Old Fort Bayou are important to preserve?” They responded with consensus:

  • Marsh areas, streamside buffers and green space
  • Natural springs (City of Ocean Springs’ namesake)
  • Rural character of northern watershed Beauty of the bayou, view from the water toward
  • Public access to the bayou and navigability – canoes/kayaks as well as motor boat traffic

From the impacts of storm debris and tree loss to the threats of high-rise developments at the waters edge and accelerated erosion, participants clearly want to see their watershed restored and protected and the community educated about watershed issues. Forum participants are concerned about loss of green space and marsh, loss of rural character in the northern watershed, increased boat traffic and loss of scenic quality. There is a great need to educate the local citizenry and to develop pride in place so that littering and dumping can be minimized, streamside management can be better understood and implemented, and appropriate public policy can be implemented as the population grows.

Old Fort Bayou Watershed Partnership Steering Committee Members