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New Museum Of Natural Science Opens.

The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science officially opened to the public March 3rd with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10:30 that morning. School children from across the state participated in cutting the ribbon and associated festivities. This culminates five years of planning and fund-raising by the museum. More than 100,000 people visited during the first two months of operation, so the word is out that the new museum is open!

The Museum serves as a permanent and significant symbol of the love and commitment the people of Mississippi hold for their land and wildlife. Natural objects and live animals tell the story of "Mississippi's Web of Life" through exciting and educational exhibits, as visitors experience the beauty and diversity of nature.

The 73,000 square foot building connects indoor exhibits with the surrounding outdoor environment. Long expanses of windows revealing boardwalks and nature trails invite visitors to spend time outside. A central, circular rotunda culminates in an octagonal skylight in the upper lobby where a spectacular White-tailed Deer exhibit and soaring waterfowl introduce Mississippi wildlife. Impressive stairways lead down to more waterfowl and an entire wall of fossils. 2,500 sq. feet of space for changing exhibits can be easily and quickly altered to the specifications of each show. In the preschool room a giant tree house and delightful murals wrap young children in a habitat created just for them.

A floating image of Earth and oversized maps of Mississippi introduce the main exhibition hail and put our state in context with the rest of planet Earth. Visitors journey through the state, starting on the Gulf Coast, learning about the various habitats that comprise Mississippi. The exhibits reveal relationships between the land, flora, fauna, and the people of our state. An aquarium system containing nearly 100,000 gallons of water and housing over 200 species of native fishes, reptiles, amphibians, and aquatic invertebrates in 20 aquariums tells an ecological story of rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, marshes, and the Mississippi Sound. Life size habitat displays represent unique and exciting ecosystems, featuring hundreds of animals and plants. "The Swamp" is a 1,700 sq. ft. greenhouse containing a 20,000 gallon aquarium that is home to an assortment of alligators, turtles, and fishes surrounded by a lush native plant garden.

In an effort to disturb as little natural habitat as possible, the Museum and new parking lot were built on previously cleared land, an old parking area, and an old road bed. The building is nestled against the tree line of a 300 acre natural area. Over 3,000 native trees, shrubs, and vines have been planted to extend the natural area and restore wildlife habitat.

Sixteen million dollars in funding, appropriated by the Mississippi Legislature, has been matched by over $1.8 million from private sources to make this new super attraction possible in Jackson. The Mississippi Museum of Natural Science Foundation is looking for a few more corporate sponsors to reach our goal of $2 million.

Mississippi Valley Gas, Bell South, Blue Cross Blue Shield, ERGON, Entergy, Deposit Guaranty, Mississippi Chemical Corp., Friede Goldman, Trustmark, Farm Bureau Federation, Mississippi Power, Delta and Pine Land Company, Irby Companies, Pruet Companies, The Clarion-ledger, and Chevron have sponsored exhibits, along with several local and national foundations (Gertrude Ford Foundation, Walker Foundation, Tara Wildlife Foundation, Straddlefork Foundation, Armstrong Foundation, and Phil Hardin Foundation). Benevolent individuals such as Dudley Hughes, Billy and Mollie Van Devender, Maggie Bryant, the Abe Rotwein family, the Richard McRae Family, and the Steve Zachow family have given generously to help provide this wonderful educational facility to the people of Mississippi.

The new facility provides:

* An aquarium system 7 times larger than the old one on Jefferson Street

* A 200 seat auditorium

* Two classrooms

* A 2,500 sq. ft. library

* A Gift Shop

* An exhibit hall for temporary and traveling exhibits.

* Laboratories and data management room dedicated to conservation based research.

* Collection ranges to accommodate more than 300,000 biological specimens.

* Larger, more realistic habitat exhibits.

* More hands-on exhibits

* More than 2 1/2 miles of nature trails

* 300 beautiful acres adjacent to the Pearl River

* Outdoor amphitheater

Hours: 8--5 Monday--Friday

9--5 Saturday

1--5 Sunday

Fees: Adults $4

Senior citizens $3

Children (3--18 years) $2

School groups $1 per student

Call for group rates

Individual membership $25/year

Family membership $50/year

Natural Heritage Program--In 1978 the Mississippi Legislature recognized the "need for additional organized, accessible information to identify and make known the types and locations of plant and animal life, geological areas and other natural areas of the state" by passing the Mississippi Natural Heritage Law. This law further declared a "system of protection and management of these [natural] areas should be implemented and maintained through a procedure of voluntary action by the owners of the property of which these areas may be located." With this legislation, the legislature established the Mississippi Natural Heritage Program at the Natural Science Museum.

The Natural Heritage inventory has three main areas of activity:

1. To conduct a comprehensive inventory of Mississippi's significant natural areas and setting land protection priorities in the state. Information on the status and distribution of exemplary biotic communities, rare and endangered plants and animals, aquatic and marine habitats, geological and other natural features is collected, stored and analyzed in an integrated data management system.

2. To conduct field surveys to: (a) verify the continued existence or reported occurrences of a rare plant, animal, or community type,(b) to collect sufficient information on the occurrence, distribution and status of these elements to allow decisions to be made concerning prioritization of management activities; and (c) to look for new element occurrences not previously documented during the inventory process.

3. To conserve outstanding examples of our natural heritage by use of innovative management and protection strategies (working with landowners, developing management plans, monitoring elements of diversity on established natural areas).

Currently the Natural Heritage Program monitors the protection of 87 Natural Areas designated in the Natural Areas Registry. These areas are owned by individuals or companies who verbally or by written agreement have expressed their intent to safeguard the special plants, animals or landscape features on their property.

The Biological and Conservation Database (BCD) maintained by the Heritage Program is the single most comprehensive repository of data on Mississippi's unique natural resources containing over 7100 records. The BCD is structured such that Heritages Programs nationwide can pool their data and provide comprehensive information for regional planning purposes. Recently the Heritage Program has been working in conjunction with surrounding state's Heritage Programs and The Nature Conservancy on ecoregional planning objectives for the East Gulf Coastal plain, Mississippi Alluvial Valley, and the Upper East Gulf Coastal plain.

The BCD also is used to assess potential impacts on special concern and threatened/endangered biota. Over 800 proposed projects from federal, state and private entities are reviewed annually to avoid, minimize or mitigate potential impacts of these projects.

Research on gopher tortoises and red-bellied turtles, and inventories of Grand Bay Savanna, Fort Bayou and Lefleur's Bluff have recently added important data for protection, management, and education purposes.
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Article Details
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Publication:Journal of the Mississippi Academy of Sciences
Geographic Code:1U6MS
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Previous Article:Editorial.
Next Article:Ecology and Vegetation of LeFleur's Bluff State Park, Jackson, Mississippi.

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