Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge
A view at Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge
The Grand Champion bald cypress
In 2000 the Nature Conservancy purchased some 9,500 acres that soon became the core of Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge. The property was paid off over the next three years and more land was added so that today, Cat Island NWR contains about 9,623 acres of the Congressionally approved acquisition boundary of 36,500 acres. The refuge is located along the southern-most unleveed portion of the Mississippi River. That means the property is almost completely inundated every year from January to June. Once the river level reaches 21', access becomes limited. Above 31', access is closed until the water level drops. Once the river drops to normal levels, there are miles of hiking trails exposed in the woods.
On the property is the Grand Champion bald cypress, the largest single tree east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. The tree is 83 feet tall with a circumference of 56 feet and a trunk diameter of 17 feet. The tree is about 1.5 miles from the Bald Cypress Trailhead, which is about 5 miles from the refuge entrance. Access stops when the river reaches 20'. Closer to the refuge entrance is the Blackfork Trail, a 2.5-mile route along Blackfork Bayou that passes several other large baldcypress trees. Access to the Blackfork Trail ends when the river reaches 26'.
Cat Island is a showcase for a US Fish & Wildlife Service program that solicits participation from volunteers and facilitates partnerships among the USFWS, local communities and conservation organizations. The Friends of Cat Island NWR have taken responsibility for the National Champion baldcypress area, maintaining the trails and parking areas.
Cat Island NWR is administered out of an office at Sibley NWR in Sibley, Mississippi. The property is day-use only, and only when the river is low enough.
Photos and map courtesy of the US Fish & Wildlife Service