Big plans for future of Salmon Nuclear Test Site - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

Big plans for future of Salmon Nuclear Test Site

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) -

What was once a highly restricted, heavily secured government nuclear test site is now - nearly 50 years later - open to the public.

"Anyone who wants to come on the tract can call," says Assistant State Forester Wayne Tucker. "We will make plans to let them come on the track."

If you call, you will be scheduling your visit with the Mississippi Forestry Commission which, as of 2010, has taken over management of the site from the federal government.

"We did research on it for about ten years before we took it," says Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.

"When we were first approached by Wildlife Mississippi about the Department of Energy turning it over to the commission ... there was a light bulb that went off because we wondered what kind of contamination might be out here," said Tucker. "We actually put a plan together to go out here and look at all the trees, and we sampled over 600 trees - we found one tree that had any tritium in it at all, and if that one tree had been drinking water it still would have been safe to drink."

The state now owns all 1,470 acres.

"We're responsible for the contamination, the state owns everything else," says Art Kleinrath who works for the United States Department of Energy.

That contamination is - scientists say - safely underground and the government commissions tests to be done on the site yearly to make sure it stays that way.

When the tests were on the site, in the 1960s, the land was barren with trees cut down to stumps for hundreds of acres.

Since then the property - now called Longleaf Pine Ecosystem - has been left virtually untouched with the exception of scientists, forestry officials, and the occasional rebellious teenager.

"For 50 years, there's been nothing that was done out here," says Tucker. "All of this growth is natural growth."

"Longleaf Ecosystem is almost as diverse as a tropical rainforest: in a square foot you can find up to 40 different species of plants," says Russell Bozeman of the Mississippi Forestry Commission.

"I feel very good about it - it was a gift from the federal government and it had two million dollars worth of timber on it," says Hosemann.

However the 500 foot radius surrounding ground zero will be preserved.

"We'll be putting up a lot of signage, hopefully some pavilions maybe, or a kiosk or a place where we can bring people, you know have them sit down, look at some of the history," says Bozeman.

"Some people will be interested in this because of the unique history - there's no getting around that," says Mississippi State Extension professor Glenn Hughes. "Others will see it less from the nuclear component, and they're more interested in the things that are behind me - the working forest."


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