JACKSON, Miss. (WJTV) – At one time, the vast majority of the rivers and streams we float and boat today in Mississippi were considered private property. One man changed all of that. So if you like to go up the Pearl or down the Pascagoula, thank Mansfield Downs.
Who is Downs? Well, I wouldn’t have had any idea until I read journalists Bill Minor’s “Eyes on Mississippi” book. In his section on heroes, he lists Downs as the one person in Mississippi who convinced the legislature to revise the Public Streams law.
Until 1971, a public stream in Mississippi was one on which you could float a steamboat loaded with 200 bales of cotton for at least 30 straight days a year. All of the rest of the rivers, creeks and bayous belonged to the land owners through who’s property they ran. That means if you wanted to try floating Okatoma, Red Creek or Black Creek and places like that, you could have been arrested for trespassing back then.
But in 1971, the legislature updated the public waterways qualifications and opened up about 90 percent of the places we can use today. That may never have been done, or at least it wouldn’t have been done when it was, had it not been for Downs from Pearl River County.
They say three/fifths of the world is covered in water. Mississippi may not be quite that wet, but as a fisherman cousin of mine told me once, you can’t go 20 miles in any direction in Mississippi without finding another good fishing hole.
They are our public playgrounds and the secret quiet places we go to either find, or lose ourselves, depending on our mood. The waterways are natures gift to us. And since 1971, we can float, boat or wade pretty nearly all of what we have of them in Mississippi.