Turkey Creek

A project of the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain

Watershed Description

Turkey Creek is in the Coastal Basin Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) 031700090702 in southeastern Mississippi. It flows approximately 12.9 miles in a southeastern direction from its headwaters until its confluence with Bernard Bayou. Turkey Creek headwaters are located just north of Interstate 10 and west of Highway 49. The drainage area is approximately 11,000 acres and lies within Harrison County. The watershed is rural but includes some urban areas, those portions located within the city limits of Gulfport and Long Beach. The historic Turkey Creek community is surrounded by large urban developments: the airport lies to the south, highway 49 lies to the west and the industrial seaway lies to the north. Outside the city limits, open land (wet-pine savannas and forests) is the dominant landuse within the watershed.

The historic communities of Turkey Creek, North Gulfport and Forrest Heights are located at the lower end of the Turkey Creek watershed. The lower reaches of the Creek are navigable from west of the North Gulfport Middle School to Bernard Bayou. It is a popular waterway for fishing, swimming and canoeing and contributes to the culture and quality of life of the residents.

The watershed is located in the East Gulf Coastal Plain ecoregion of the southeastern U.S. and is part of the Mississippi Coastal Basin and Streams. Native vegetation in the watershed includes those species found in coastal wet pine savannas, mixed southern forests, bayhead swamps and bottomland hardwood forests. The topography of the watershed is relatively flat creating a slow-moving coastal stream and tidal creek.

In 1866, a group of emancipated African-Americans exercised their newly acquired rights to purchase and settle 320 acres in Harrison County Mississippi. Land records listed this area as uninhabited “Swamp Land”. Now known as Turkey Creek, the land encompasses bottomland and coastal maritime forests, freshwater marsh and scrub-shrub habitats. The settlers created arable land to practice sustainable agriculture and supplemented their diet with fish, plants and wildlife from the forests and streams. They developed a viable, self-sufficient community bound together by culture and ecology.

Until the mid 1980s, Turkey Creek’s community institutions and land use remained remarkably unchanged as land was passed from generation to generation. Since then however, this piece of American heritage has been critically threatened by airport expansion, municipal annexation, land speculation, deforestation, wetland destruction, commercial sprawl, spot zoning and political isolation. As a result, in 2001, the Mississippi Heritage Trust listed the entire community as one of the state’s Ten Most Endangered Historical Places.

Watershed Partnership

After Hurricane Katrina, the LTMCP wanted to build on the work of the Turkey Creek Greenway (see figure below) coalition and further develop a unique, engaged watershed partnership with the Turkey Creek community. Preparation for the Turkey Creek Watershed Implementation Plan began in October 2005 with funding assistance from the EPA. This partnership is intended to foster a more sustainable future for residents, businesses and community institutions by addressing natural and cultural resource concerns in a comprehensive plan. The Turkey Creek Watershed Implementation Plan was developed to serve as overall guidance for improving water quality in Turkey Creek. The LTMCP and its partners believe that citizens and private sector stakeholders can best achieve this goal by (1) creating a community greenway with public access to the creek; (2) prioritizing ecological restoration projects and environmental education programs and (3) developing partnerships to implement watershed projects.

In January 2006, the Turkey Creek-North Gulfport Neighborhood’s identified five primary conservation goals:

  1. Protect Existing Resources
  2. Educate and Empower the Community
  3. Restore Ecological Functions and Natural Connections to System Headwaters
  4. Increase Non-vehicular Connectivity between schools, parks, community centers, homes, businesses and neighborhoods
  5. Coordinate funding so that public projects are well leveraged to maximize public benefit

The Plan is divided into two parts: protection and restoration strategies that the community wants to see accomplished within the next few years.

(1) PROTECTION GOAL: To defend the existing natural and cultural resources of the Turkey Creek Watershed from further degradation caused by encroachment, abuse or neglect. The Plan includes 8 management strategies and 15 education strategies to help meet the protection goal.

(2) RESTORATION GOAL: To actively initiate or accelerate the recovery of the ecological and cultural health, integrity and sustainability of the Turkey Creek Watershed wherever it has been degraded, damaged or destroyed. The Plan includes 15 management strategies and 8 education strategies to help meet the restoration goal.

Turkey Creek Watershed Partnership Steering Committee meeting.

Turkey Creek Watershed Partnership Steering Committee Members