A forested area along the Pearl River floodplain
A forested area along the Pearl River floodplain

Metro Jackson soon will be home to a green space three times larger than New York City’s Central Park. There, residents can enjoy outdoor activities like kayaking, canoeing, hiking and bird watching.

The site, known as the Fannye Cook Natural Area, includes about 2,600 acres of green space in Rankin County between Airport Road and the Ross Barnett Reservoir.

Conservation nonprofit Mississippi Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or Wildlife Mississippi, was handed ownership of the land Wednesday from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, which purchased the site in 2009.

The refuge will be named after Fannye Cook, a wildlife conservationist and founder of the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science.

When MDOT purchased the site, the agency planned to use it as a mitigation bank, or preservation area, to offset losses of wetlands from previous road construction projects in the Pearl River Basin.

Libby Hartfield, the Fannye Cook Natural Area Coordinator, said MDOT had previously cleared roads around the site, cut fallen trees and planted new trees, among other things.

Now, Wildlife Mississippi will lead future efforts to improve the site using private money from its donors as well as by applying for grants.

“(Wildlife Mississippi) is going to be responsible for the maintenance of that land,” said Michael Flood, a MDOT spokesman.

Wildlife Mississippi has yet to set a date when the site would open to the public pending a final building plan for the site.

“This was a piece of land that was owned by International Paper, and was used as a source of lumber,” Hartfield said. ” … It’s going to have to definitely be rehabbed.”

Some items on the nonprofit’s to-do list for the next few months include connecting walking trails, including some that lead to dead ends, as well as posting safety signage and building public restrooms.

Wildlife Mississippi will also meet with community groups such as running clubs and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts groups to determine other ways the space can fit the needs of the community, Hartfield said.

The nonprofit will also make improvements meant to protect endangered species that live on the land, such as the ringed map turtle.

The site is touted as Mississippi’s largest urban natural area. More than 820,000 people live within 60 miles of the site, MDOT said.

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