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Mathews: Mississippi must invest in its most valuable asset

Written by SuperTalk Mississippi’s Ricky Mathews, Host of Coast Vue

My friend singer/songwriter Steve Azar, the music and cultural ambassador for Mississippi and host of “In a Mississippi Minute” on SuperTalk, often says of the hundreds of songs he has written, that once he immerses himself in a song, “the song writes itself.”

So, he’s definitely going to agree with Shakespeare on this point: “The Earth has music for those who listen.” As will so many Mississippians who know and value our unique access to the great outdoors. The stories we tell and hand down through generations are often those connected to the times we spend in forests and fields and on our rivers and coastal waters.

The stories write themselves.

Enjoying the outdoors may be the one thing in Mississippi that transcends all political beliefs, that connects us like no other sense of belonging to our place in the world. Instead of tearing us apart – which is too often the case these days – outdoor recreation brings us together. It defines us. It is the magnet that keeps us here and attracts our visitors.

It creates jobs and provides significant economic support for this state —  and, I should add, economic support for the many cities and towns that create Mississippi’s one-of-a-kind sense of place.

In short, the outdoors in Mississippi is our most important asset.

The question then becomes: How do we best protect these resources and this critical contribution to our quality of life?

Here’s an important new opportunity: The newly-formed Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Coalition. It’s composed of The Delta Council, Delta Wildlife, Ducks Unlimited Foundation for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, The Nature Conservancy, and Wildlife Mississippi.

This coalition is laser-focused on significantly increasing investments in Mississippi’s outdoor recreation. And it’s already gotten bipartisan support in this state. As I said, the outdoors transcend politics.

House Bill 1231 creates the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund to strengthen our investment in Mississippi’s outdoors by allocating a percentage of the existing state sales tax on sporting goods for this purpose. It passed the House 117-2.

The Trust Fund would grow to $15 million a year by year three. Having this trust fund will enable Mississippi to capture significant federal and private matching funds. Georgia, for example, made a $20 million investment in their trust fund grow into $100 million dollars. So, clearly, the money we invest will be paid back in significant ways.

Mississippi should be leading the way, given our strong position in outdoor recreation. We are the home of Primos and Mossy Oak, among other enterprises and other business leaders. But we find ourselves as one of two states in the Southeast without such a fund. As a result, we are falling behind in our efforts to invest in outdoor recreation.

This bill now goes to the Senate. Let’s hope they see the wisdom of committing to a modest investment that provides significant returns over the long haul.

If you were ever going to call an investment a sure thing, this is one of them! My fingers are crossed for strengthening the outdoors in this great state.

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