LENA MITCHELL: Crow's Neck at Bay Springs too important to lose

TISHOMINGO – If you haven’t visited the Crow’s Neck Environmental Education and Conference Center, it is a place you need to see.
The nonprofit educational center, now operated by Northeast Mississippi Community College, occupies 530 acres on the shores of Bay Springs Lake of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, outside Tishomingo.
Since April 1993, Crow’s Neck has pursued its mission of promoting stewardship of the natural environment and cultural resources.
I’ve been privileged to report on the work at Crow’s Neck since its inception. I was a reporter at the Daily Corinthian when the facility opened, and covering that opening was my assignment.
Through the years I’ve covered many events at Crow’s Neck. Last spring the center hosted about 450 Belmont Middle School students who were given a day’s outing at the center to celebrate great results on the Mississippi Curriculum Tests.
I interviewed students as they hopped soaking wet out of two-person canoes they learned to maneuver around the lake under the watchful eyes of Crow’s Neck counselors.
A variety of activities were open to them for their day’s outing, including archery, environmental recreation, forensics, herpetology (snakes), survival skills and talespinners.
In the summer Crow’s Neck hosted Operation Purple Camp for the third year, a camp for children of military families, sponsored by the National Military Family Association with support from the Sierra Club.
As it was about a decade ago when Northeast assumed management of the facility the future of Crow’s Neck is in jeopardy.
Funding cuts to community colleges around the state and generally tight budgets call into question Crow’s Neck’s place in Northeast’s core mission.
The college’s president informed the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District in a recent letter that Northeast would no longer fund and oversee Crow’s Neck operations after June 30, 2011.
Executive Director Cynthia Harrell has mounted an appeal for supporters of the center to urge Mississippi’s congressional delegation to appropriate federal funds to continue operating the center after July 1, 2011.
At its inception the facility – built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the waterway’s construction – was operated by an environmental educational consortium that included the Tombigbee River Valley Water Management District, Mississippi State University, the University of Mississippi, Itawamba Community College and Northeast.
The center’s goal was then – and continues to be – to provide a hands-on learning environment to promote environmental awareness and foster a sense of responsibility and stewardship of natural resources.
It not only hosts events for school children – and just about every student in North Mississippi visits the center during their fifth grade year – but also is a venue for church retreats, banquets, family reunions, proms, weddings, professional conferences and many other special events.
It also is a highly respected training ground for naturalists from around the United States. Program Director Debora Waz, a Connecticut native with a degree in biology from Drew University in New Jersey, came to “The Neck” in 2005 as an intern and never left.
Other naturalist staff members and interns now at Crow’s Neck come from New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Florida.
Through service to about 6,000 students and visitors each year, Crow’s Neck has proven its value to environmental education while providing a wholesome and fun outdoor experience.
This first class facility is a gem in North Mississippi, and the idea that its days may be numbered should be a call to action for all of us.
Please send your appeals to Sen. Roger Wicker, 2801 W. Main St., Tupelo, MS 38801; Sen. Thad Cochran, U.S. Federal Courthouse, 911 E. Jackson Ave., Suite 249, Oxford, MS 38655; and U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, 337A E. Main St., Tupelo, MS 38804, and urge that they include Crow’s Neck in federal appropriations so it can continue the tremendous work it does in our community.
Lena Mitchell is the Daily Journal Corinth Bureau reporter. Contact her at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com.

LENA MITCHELL / NEMS Daily Journal Corinth Bureau