By Connie Pearson
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
In the fall of 2005 volunteer relief teams headed to the Gulf Coast of Mississippi to provide food, water and cleanup help in the horrific aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Bay St. Louis and Waveland, where Hurricane Katrina made landfall, were leveled and the entire infrastructure for utilities, water and communication was wiped out.
Baptists were there for weeks with cooking crews, chainsaws and dumpsters assisting the survivors who were attempting to pick up the pieces of their demolished homes and businesses.
The following spring high schoolers and chaperones from Falkville thoughtfully gathered formal dresses and decorations allowing Bay High School students to experience the prom they thought would be impossible.
Five years later, as rebuilding efforts provided hope for recovery, the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused another knockout punch to the area economy, which was barely clinging to life.
Fast forward nine years to the present, however, and what visitors will find in Bay St. Louis and Waveland today is new and thriving thanks to incredible dedication, hard work and millions of federal dollars.
The natural beauty of the coast as a backdrop is an added bonus.
Variety of attractions
Infinity Science Center, associated with Stennis Space Center, is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is smaller than the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, but admission is also cheaper, and the exhibits and tours are outstanding.
The Ground Zero Museum in Waveland chronicles the days immediately preceding Katrina’s landfall and devastating aftermath.
The museum is housed in the former Waveland Elementary School, the only building left standing on Coleman Avenue after the storm. Among the poignant displays are the Katrina Recovery Quilt Collection and numerous photographs. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Studio Waveland’s Gallery features the works of an impressive group of local artists, and Old Town Bay St. Louis is filled with dozens of fascinating antique stores and boutiques.
While strolling along the harborside in Bay St. Louis, be sure to notice the angel trees carved by Dayle Lewis. Some are dedicated to the memory of locals who died, while others are symbolic of the protection given to brave survivors who clung to the trees in desperation as the rising water surged through the town.
The historic train depot at 1928 Depot Way houses the Welcome Center, a colorful display of Mardi Gras costumes, artifacts from famous citizens and the Alice Moseley Museum. Alice Moseley was actually born in Birmingham but is claimed by Mississippians as a prolific folk artist and painter. Forty-five of her original paintings are displayed on the second floor.
The Gulf of Mexico has been cleaned up too and the fish are loving it. Oysters, shrimp and grouper appear on every menu. The proximity to New Orleans means diners will taste gumbo, etouffee, crab cakes, po’boys and bread pudding prepared by cooks and chefs who understand the fine art of seasonings and preparation synonymous with the area. For non-seafood lovers chicken, burgers and steaks appear frequently as well.
Two popular restaurants in Bay St. Louis are Cuz’s Old Town Oyster Bar and Grill and 200 North Beach. Cuz’s is casual, while 200 North Beach is pricier and more upscale. A few blocks away you’ll find Mockingbird Cafe, which became known as the “living room of Bay St. Louis” after the storm. It was the gathering place for locals in search of a meal and an opportunity to connect. It offers great coffee and fresh, homemade breakfast and lunch entrees.
A few miles outside of Bay St. Louis in Kiln, Mississippi, Bret Favre’s hometown, look for Jourdan River Steamer. That kitchen doesn’t even own a fryer. Specialties include Royal Red shrimp, Dungeness crab, live Maine lobsters and certified Angus steaks.
Although several chain motels and hotels such as Super 8, Motel 6 and Econo Lodge are available, I would encourage you to check out Bay Town Inn Bed and Breakfast, Carroll House Bed and Breakfast and The Trust Bed and Breakfast for a chance to interact with the locals, or Buccaneer State Park for a place to park your RV.
If you don’t have an RV don’t fret. Contact Gulf Coast Campers, let them know when you’re coming and they’ll have an RV set up and ready for you to rent and enjoy temporarily when you arrive.
Buccaneer State Park features a large waterpark called Buccaneer Bay that is open to the public and includes a wave pool, water slides and a toddler pool sure to provide summer fun for the whole family.
It takes only a few minutes of chatting with local business owners in Hancock County to sense the passion and resolve they have to make their part of the Gulf Coast even better than it was before the storm.
Against all odds Bay St. Louis is back in business. And these overcomers deserve our admiration and respect, but they also need our dollars in their restaurants, inns, campgrounds and attractions.