Another Side of NASA: Possum Walk Heritage Trail

Ideas and Issues
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December 24, 2020

            Pearl River     NASA is in the news again. Eyes are pointed upward. Astronauts are being trained for the moon. Americans indicate that there are other priorities people think are perhaps more important for NASA. Surveys indicate that 53% of Americans want NASA to monitor global climate as a top priority. The second highest priority is looking for asteroids or other objects that might hit earth. It’s hard to disagree with any of that. “Houston, we have a problem…” are you listening to us on the ground as well?

NASA has had a protected zone around the Stennis Facility at the border of Louisiana on the Mississippi side of the Pearl River since the early 1960s. The operation was planted there thanks to the power of the longtime senator and segregationist, John Stennis, from Sunflower County in the heart of the delta region of the state. It’s hard to escape the zone from the first exit off of I-10 to almost Waveland, Mississippi, which for New Orleans residents is the first opportunity to hit the beach where the Gulf of Mexico comes into the Mississippi Sound.       To create the zone, whole towns and hundreds of families were dislocated from places like Logtown, once a bustling timber town with 3000 residents in the early days of the 20th century, shipping timber all over the world.

There’s a Possum Walk Heritage Trail that runs near the Pearl River from the I-10 rest area and site of the Infinity Science Center that serves as the NASA Visitors Center there. A huge Saturn booster rocket produced at the NASA facility in New Orleans East is on display. You can’t miss that. The trail is a bit over three miles each way with estimates running from 3 to 3.7 miles, depending on what you read and who you believe. It’s been there for a while, but I couldn’t easily find the date it opened when we decided to explore and take our bikes on the trail.

It’s a nicely laid out route through mostly pine, tallow, tung oil and magnolia in upland and lowland biomes. There’s a bridge over a bayou on the Logtown entrance. There are signs about various habitats. One plaque tells some of the history of forestry there.

NASA allowing there to be some public use is a good thing, but not without some contradictions that turn up on a Google search.       Hancock County closed it down for a while in 2019 because of fire. There was a time when it was closed for hunting season from November until February with the gates locked, but no sign of that now. Maintenance was fair.

Why Possum Walk? There’s no explanation for the name, but there is a sign that says Possum Walk Community on a trail pullout, where we flushed two good sized whitetail deer.       It turns out that Possum Walk was the name of the all-Black community that was located there and has now disappeared.       Maybe there’s still too much Stennis and too little recognition of the full history of the area, but this is a nice little trail, and NASA could do better than just preserving the Logtown Cemetery by telling the whole story at the ground level, rather than just letting the name be part of the historical hide-and-seek.