HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WHLT) – On Tuesday, Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker was joined by representatives from Visit Hattiesburg, the Piney Woods Conservation Group, Forrest County Board of Supervisors and Hattiesburg-area legislative delegation to announce a $480,000 grant from the Mississippi Outdoor Stewardship Grant Program.

The funds will be used to improve public access to the Leaf River via Sims Road in Southeast Hattiesburg. According to officials, the funds will assist with the development of the Sims Road waterway access. It will include reconstructing the ramp at a standard slope range and adding three pavilion picnic areas, vehicle and trailer parking, boat and kayak launches designed for fluctuating water levels, an ADA-accessible path to the water and a cleared landing for anglers.

At completion, this access point would allow for a 9.6-mile route called the Middle Leaf Route along the Pinebelt Blueways. 

“This added access point to the Leaf River through Sims Road will continue to boost Hattiesburg’s role in eco-tourism while aiding in the continued development and improvement of the Pinebelt Blueways – a private and public partnership that promotes our existing waterways as a tourist attraction,” said Barker. “We continue to push our trajectory in becoming a premier city in the Gulf South forward. I’m proud of the work our team, local delegation, community partners and more have contributed to this effort – especially here in Southeast Hattiesburg.”

The design phase for this project will begin immediately, according to officials.