Guest Blog submitted by Judi Blalock of the Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee
Exciting adventures abound for the Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee (MRCT), one of the 52 members of the Mississippi River Network working towards a healthy River! We are firing on all cylinders! The organization has recently relocated to a new office in the historic Midtown Memphis area of Shelby County. With that said, I would like to share this exhilarating ride with you! Strap in and fasten your seat belts!
You are about to embark on a journey that will take you back to one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs — the Civilian Conservation Corps. This voyage along the Corridor will also take you to Reelfoot Lake. Do you remember when an earthquake caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards in 1811? Lastly, I will briefly take you to a time we all hope for in the future — a time when environmental education is not novel or unique!
Before we take this voyage, you’ll need to understand that the Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee has at least seven major focus areas. However, today I’ll only touch on three: Conservation, Economic Development, and Education.
CONSERVATION- Shelby Forest State Park Civilian Conservation Corps
One of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s most successful New Deal work programs was the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). From 1933-1942, labor was provided to Shelby Forest and other Parks across the country to replant the forest, reclaim eroded land, and build recreational facilities. Unfortunately, the former group camp at Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park has long been abandoned. Many of the cabins are structurally sound and in good repair minus a few cobwebs; others are major projects waiting to happen. The great news is that this hidden and historic treasure has become a new project for MRCT. We have partnered with the University of Memphis – City and Regional Planning Graduate program, and have created a Restoration Plan for Shelby Forest’s CCC! The large Assembly Hall building you see in the photos contains the original light fixtures, a massive fireplace and a large kitchen. When restored to its natural beauty, the complex will be a truly unique conservation “boutique camp” for environmental conferences, tourists and regional citizens. It will also provide another Educational Hub equipped with lodging, recreation and research —the University of Memphis Biological Research Station is only one mile west of this site! Stay in touch and come visit once we’re done!
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT- Reelfoot Lake State Park – Interpretive Visitors Center
Reelfoot Lake is located in Tiptonville, Lake County – TN. It is one of the six counties the MRCT showcases along our western coast on the Mississippi River. It’s particularly unique because it is Tennessee’s largest natural lake encompassing over 15,000 acres of water and hardwood wetlands — and is only 4’ to -5’ deep! In 1811, this sparsely settled frontier experienced several New Madrid fault seismic earthquakes causing the Mississippi River to turn around and run backwards! Many accounts reported the earth tremors and aftershocks were felt as far as Boston, Massachusetts, and Quebec City, Canada! Consequently, in 2016 it is one of the world’s greatest natural fish hatcheries and wildlife habitat!
For those in the area, Reelfoot Lake is the town’s best kept secret. However, that will soon change! The MRCT and the Askew Nixon Ferguson architectural firm are partnering to construct and upgrade the Park’s Visitor Centers. This will be the first major upgrade for the Park since the early 1960’s! And while you think it could not get any more interesting, it does! The new raised deck 7,100 SF exhibit center will be shaped in the form of an eagle — the iconic symbol of Reelfoot Lake!
EDUCATION- Mid-South Outdoor Recreation & Education (MORE) Program
MRCT has an outstanding environmental education program called MORE, where we expose students to life on the Mississippi through water/soil testing, trail exploration and basic science techniques. We utilize an exceptional curriculum called Project Learning Tree. It is a supplement to sixth grade science and math standards involving two of our schools in Memphis. The primary premise of this curriculum is teaching students how to think and not what to think. This idea is so important, simply because most of our sixth graders are not exposed to the natural treasures and wonders found on the River.
The 1 Mississippi campaign is very similar. We pride ourselves in finding new and innovative ways to communicate and teach individuals about the merits and needs of our great River. So now that you have taken this small voyage with me along western Tennessee, I encourage you to inspire someone to become a River Citizen today. Take an old or new friend to your state park, go visit the creek in your neighborhood or look for deer droppings on a local trail. Do that today and tell me how you were inspired! The most awesome thing about these experiences is that you don’t have to turn any pages to learn when you’re OUTDOORS!
GO OUTSIDE AND BECOME A RIVER CITIZEN TODAY!