Pin marks the location of Shepard State Park along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.

Shepard State Park in Gautier, Miss., will remain open in Gautier, according to a memorandum of understanding and inter-governmental agreement with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP)approved by Gautier’s mayor and council on Tuesday night (Dec. 18).

Transfer of the park to the city is effective immediately, the Mississippi Press reported.

“A revitalized Shepard State Park is an important next step as part of our Nature’s Playground strategy,” said Mayor Tommy Fortenberry. “This will add opportunities for our youth.”

The transition begins with a Park Operations, Maintenance and Improvements Plan, prepared by city administrators, that outlines future improvements, including the addition of an archery range, equestrian trails and stables, camping sites, pavilions, playgrounds, fishing piers and hiking trails.

Tidelands funds and a Recreation Trails Program grant will be sought to help implement the plan. “The possible improvements will increase resident and tourist enjoyment plus increase revenues,” the plan states.

The name will remain the same,” the mayor said. As a city-operated park, Shepard will become the community’s largest, tourism-oriented park and add recreational opportunities for residents.

The agreement specifies the city will continue to operate the park as a forest reserve, public park, and a bird and wildlife sanctuary, and apply for status as a Substitute Sponsor under the Land and Water Conservation Fund grants.

MDWFP would provide technical assistance to the city in preserving and maintaining the critical wildlife habitat and certain marine and/or estuarine ecosystems and maintain timber and timber management. Income from public use of the park will go to the city.

Current operations reflect a surplus of more than $18,000. Upon execution of the agreement, existing maintenance equipment would be transferred to the city’s inventory and a state trooper who resides at the park would continue his residence there. “I had many conversations with people on the state level to make sure our takeover will be cost effective,” Fortenberry said.

According to the park’s official website, Shepard, that was marked for state closure, has 395 acres abounding with trees and wild flowers, bike and nature trails, 28 developed campsites, one bathhouse, tent camping, picnicking and an 18-hole disc golf course.

The property was originally conveyed to the state in December 1976, by Horace A. Shepard for use as a forest reserve, public park and wildlife sanctuary.