Our national parks amaze me – so fragile in some places that disturbing a blade a grass will upset the eco-system, but simultaneously so invincible that they can withstand the worst Planet Earth has to offer and thrive in the aftermath.
That’s the case with the Gulf Islands National Seashore, the latest check mark on my list of national parks visited. Gulf Islands encompasses a number of barrier islands that protect the coastline along Florida and Mississippi from the furies of the Gulf of Mexico. My visit was to West Ship Island off of the coast of Gulfport, MS.
It’s nearly impossible to visit this part of the world and not remember the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. The evidence is everywhere, as well as the heroic efforts of the coast’s hearty souls to rebuild their lives. As I took the ferry 12 miles out into Gulf to West Ship Island, I did so with a sense of awe. Mother Nature is one powerful chick.
West Ship Island Mississippi
West Ship Island is actually half of what had been just Ship Island, an 11 mile long strip of land that Hurricane Camille cut in half in 1969. Now there are East and West Ship Islands, but the park service headquarters and facilities are on West Ship Island. That’s also the location of Fort Massachusetts, a military defense begun in 1859. The fort was occupied by both Confederate and Union troops, the latter completing much of the fort’s presence. Prisoners of war were held here, including one southern woman who did not appropriately mourn the passing of a Union officer.
Despite Hurricane Camille cutting Ship Island in two and Hurricane Katrina covering the island in 30 feet of water, Fort Massachusetts still stands, nary a brick out of place.
In the summer months, as many as 400 people a day take the ferry to West Ship Island and hopefully most of them visit the fort and read of its history. But I’m pretty sure most of them just hit the beach, grab a chair and umbrella and enjoy the view. And that’s pretty impressive as well.