Thursday, March 26, 2009
Work begins on Audubon entrance
By SUE WATSON
Motorists traveling on Highway 311, north of Holly Springs, may soon get a shock as they pass by Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT) will be clearing the right-of-way along Highway 311 this spring, just north of Strawberry Church, as part of a new entrance road to the nature preserve, according to center director Bubba Hubbard.
Contractors started work last week on Audubon property for the new entrance road and MDOT may soon begin clearing trees along both sides of Highway 311 around the new entrance once the road is in.
“It will look pretty devastating when they start work along Highway 311 with trees falling and dirt moving,” Hubbard said. “People will think it odd that conservationists are cutting trees, but it is necessary for progress.”
Audubon plans to work with MDOT to landscape the Highway 311 stretch with native grasses and wildflowers.
The new entrance road is needed for traffic safety, especially during large events such as the annual Hummingbird Migration Celebration which drew around 8,500 visitors over a four-day period last year. Audubon’s fall festival was recently selected as one of the Top 20 events to visit in the Southeast, thanks to Holly Springs Tourism Bureau executive director Stephanie Movre, who nominated the hummingbird celebration and received the good news of the home run just weeks ago.
“Audubon is proud to be able to bring so many visitors into Holly Springs and the Top 20 designation gives the event a lot more free regional publicity,” Hubbard said. “It’s a tribute to our small staff and around 140 volunteers who worked so hard last year to put the event on.”
The new entrance is an important management solution to the traffic problem and will allow Strawberry Plains to have a separate entrance and exit during large events.
The Hummingbird Migration Celebration has grown from 200 visitors nine years ago to over 8,000 visitors in 2008 and this new entrance will be a solution to traffic congestion during events.
Turn lanes on Highway 311 will improve safety and also make it possible for Audubon to put directional signage along other state highways.
“MDOT must approve all signs on their right-of-way and they will not approve ours unless the entrance meets their safety standards,” Hubbard said.
Visitors throughout the year, as well as festival goers who flock to Audubon in September, will be well served by a more visible and safer entrance.
Funding for the improved entrance on Highway 311 is coming from an Appalachian Region Commission grant to Marshall County and from gracious contributions from MDOT who will be conducting the work along Highway 311. Audubon, which depends on entrance/program fees, donations, and investment income, is paying for the new road across its property.
The new road is the first step for even more improvements at Strawberry Plains.
Hubbard said, “The greatest assets of Strawberry Plains are its natural beauty and peacefulness, and we’re thinking less is better. We’d like for the new entrance and other improvements to continue to look and feel like an old southern plantation that features nature's beauty and displays it with hiking trails through natural forests and grasslands, wildlife viewing areas, native plant gardens, and of course, the historic Davis House.”
Margaret Shackelford and her sister Ruth Finley arranged for the old plantation to be donated to Audubon which occurred after Margaret's death in 1998. She had purchased the additional 18 acres needed along Highway 311 for a better entrance to the property. The sisters’ vision to preserve nature fits very well with Audubon’s emphasis on conservation and education, a part of the National Audubon Society’s overall mission.
“Engaging people with nature is what Audubon is all about,” said Hubbard.
The Strawberry Plains Audubon Center is more than a nature conservatory. It is also a good neighbor. Hubbard said many land management practices which help wildlife are modeled on the property, particularly forest and grassland management. The center also partners with landowners to help improve habitats on private lands using techniques such as prescribed burning, reforestation, riparian stream buffers, re-establishment of native warm season grasses, and control of exotic species. Local landowners are now cooperating on conservation projects across individual property lines in the upper Coldwater River Watershed which helps the greater community and also improves water quality downstream. Good habitat reduces sediment and other pollutants running into the rivers and streams during heavy rains.
A big part of the center’s mission is directed at saving bird species. Audubon maintains a list of common birds in the U.S. that are showing the greatest decline in abundance.
“Our local landowners seem to be most interested in managing grasslands and forest for a good reason,” Hubbard said. “Of the top 10 common bird species in decline in the U.S., five are found around here most of the year and all five of those bird species need grassland habitats and use areas of sparse trees and shrubs. “
These birds are the meadowlark, northern bobwhite quail, loggerhead shrike, field sparrow and grasshopper sparrow. As landowners join in with Audubon in managing grasslands, forests, and wetlands, these species that once were abundant in Northern Mississippi, will like the ruby-Throated Hummingbird, be provided the habitat conducive to increasing their numbers.
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