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Moving Outside in Mississippi!

Families in Natchez, Mississippi know how to get moving outside, and make the most of the special places in their community. The Mississippi River Connections Collaboration, which includes the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, recently hosted “Let’s Move Outside Southwest Mississippi,” a daylong celebration of healthy, outdoor recreation. Hundreds of people from Adams and surrounding counties came to Natchez – a city of roughly 20,000 people along the Mississippi River – to participate in multiple activities and explore the area’s famous historical sites. The day began with a ribbon cutting at St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge, where a new headquarters office and butterfly garden will help teach visitors about local wildlife and plants. Children and their parents then split off to walk along the Magnolia National Recreation Trail, paddle canoes around the lake, and search for Bald Eagles and other native wildlife. The crowd grew as it migrated to Natchez Bluff Park, a city park overlooking the Mississippi River – where a kayak raced splashed through around lunchtime. Meanwhile, children took part in activities including a bicycle rodeo, a Junior Ranger program on Civil War soldiers, and healthy eating demonstrations that featured local produce. They were joined by local mayors and members of the state legislature, who spoke about the importance of open space and regular exposure to the outdoors. Representatives from the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service congratulated the community on their collaborative efforts to protect places like these, and in so doing, improve the health and wellbeing of their residents. By mid-afternoon, everyone had been outdoors for several hours – and it showed! Everyone was smiling and full of energy as they headed into the day’s final event – a scavenger hunt at Natchez National Historical Park. While they were busy scrambling around the park for clues, dozens of young people learned important lessons about what life in America was like before the Civil War. At the end of the day, everyone gathered for healthy snacks and lemonade in the shade.

Local children navigate a winding course during the "bicycle rodeo" at Natchez Bluff Park.

“Let’s Move Outside Southwest Mississippi” is a prime example of a collaborative, community-based strategy to fight childhood obesity. The day’s events involved all levels of government – from the Natchez city council to the U.S. Department of the Interior – and relied upon the support of the public and private sectors. In their drive to protect and create new venues for outdoor recreation, protect these entities are helping to make Natchez a healthier, stronger, and more vibrant community. Last March, the First Lady visited Jackson, Mississippi, to host a Let’s Move rally with Governor Haley Barbour. “Too many kids aren’t getting the exercise they need,” the First Lady told a crowd at Brinkley Middle School. The daylong celebration in Natchez showed that we are moving in the right direction! More recently, an editorial in The Natchez Democrat emphasized the importance of shaping up - and getting outside: “There’s no surprise that our nation’s growing waistline has grown in proportion to the increasing time we spend indoors and inactive. First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative is one that we should all embrace — regardless of political bend. Let’s Move Outside Southwest Mississippi was one of a series of events during National Wildlife Refuge Week that focused specifically on healthy, outdoor recreation. Stay tuned to the Let’s Move Outside blog for information on upcoming events in your area.