By: Melody Worsham
Summer is upon us, and while drivers along Highway 90 are dodging sand piles in the road from the cool gusty winds of May, many are jumping in with both feet on the gorgeous Mississippi beaches. Some old-timers call it the “Redneck Riviera,” or the “Poor Man’s Paradise.” Visitors from everywhere come to enjoy sunshine and play night and day along the shoreline that promises a variety of leisure activities to please just about everyone, all at a price that fits the Mississippi pocket-book and casual, laid-back style.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is proud to be the home of the longest man-made beach in the world. In 1909, landowners along the shoreline, including iconic families like the Catchots, Bradfords and Benachis, acquired a 75-foot strip of land as a barrier between the Mississippi sound and their homes. A road was built upon on that strip, and it was called Beach Street. Today we call it Beach Boulevard, or US Highway 90. By 1917, Beach Street connected Biloxi to Gulfport, and in 1925, the construction of the seawall commenced – the largest project of its kind in the state of Mississippi. Twelve years later, the sand beach project was completed by a Louisiana dredging company at a total cost of $80,000. In 1951, the US Army Corps of Engineers piled up more sand as a buffer from shore-bound hurricanes. Two years later, another large dredging project completed the 26 mile stretch of sand that is home to nesting Least Terns, indigenous sea grasses, and a myriad of sea-faring birds. Today, the beach is alive with laughing children, sun-bathers, sandcastles, and sea-gull feeders, all with a breathtaking view of old southern homes, ancient oaks, and to the south, the barrier islands that prevent our coastline from washing away with the torrents of the Mississippi river.
Harrison County beaches offer a variety of beach vendors. On the beach near the Biloxi Lighthouse, you will find Ski & Sky Beach Rentals, where you and your friends can plan a day of parasailing, a fun way to get a bird’s eye view of the Mississippi Sound. Wearing a safety harness and kite-like sail, you are tethered to a speed boat that lifts you in flight for an invigorating flight across the waters. If soaring with the seagulls is not your idea of fun, the rental kiosk offers wave-runners and aqua cycles, along with umbrellas and lounge chairs. Or rent a float and sun bathe to the motion of the Gulf waters. To the west, near Beauvoir Manor, you can find Get Wet Beach Rentals, where you can rent small sail boats, kayaks and paddle boats – great for a romantic float along the calm waters of the Sound. Beach Bums, in front of Edgewater Mall, offers kayaks, umbrella rentals, and jet-skis. Life’s a Beach, located near Debuys Road is a family favorite on a sparkling clean stretch of beach perfect for lounge chairs, umbrellas, and rentals of jet-skis from a crew of safety-minded workers who are trained in boating safety and CPR.
For the nighttime beachcomber, Henderson Point Beach in Pass Christian is the home of a Full Moon Drum Circle. A diverse cultural group of locals meet each month to play their drums, flutes, and other primitive musical instruments around a mesmerizing bon fire. People from all walks of life come together to enjoy the music or join in. The atmosphere is peaceful and family-friendly. The Full Moon Drum Circle starts at sun-down and often goes late into the night. Bring your own blanket, refreshments and drums.
Several places along the beach are open for bon fires, but you must obtain a permit from the Harrison County Sand Beach Department. The designated locations are usually those with large parking bays for the safety and convenience of the night-time beach goers. Permits are five dollars and a 25 dollar clean-up security deposit. There are safety guidelines to which one must adhere so that the beach remains clean and ready for the daytime barefoot crowd. And for everyone’s swimming safety, the Mississippi Beach Monitoring System provides reports about any beach closings across Coastal Mississippi due to water quality. Before you plan your day on the beach, visit the University of Southern Mississippi online at http://www.usm.edu/gcrl/msbeach/index.cgi
Not interested in lighting a bon fire? Other night-time activities include flounder and soft-shell crab gigging, fishing from public piers, watching the July 4th Fireworks and romantic moonlit strolls. Day or night, winter or summer, Coastal Mississippians have made the sandy beaches a part of their culture. From the annual kite-flying and sandcastle contests in May, to the Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo coming up later this month, to summer marine education programs for kids, to catching Biloxi Bacon (mullet) while wading in the surf, sun and sand is a way of life. Just don’t forget the sunscreen!