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By ELISE PARKER, Enterprise-Journal

MCCOMB, Miss. (AP) — Before Tropical Storm Cristobal rolled through, seven Boy Scouts from Troops 124 and 124-G headed north on I-55 toward Missouri’s Current River in the Ozarks. Their mission: travel approximately 53 miles via canoe over the course of about five days, camping at night along the river.

They packed for primitive conditions, most gear neatly rolled into dry bags. All of them were looking forward to the clean, mountain air and having fun with friends on the Class I, crystal clear river.

Perhaps they would see local wildlife like wild horses, bears, deer, ducks, endangered cave critters and turtles. It was exciting to anticipate viewing the hardwood trees, rock ledges, caves, springs, gravel bars, as well as the towering dolomite bluffs which line the banks of the river. The Ozarks offer very different scenery from flat, southwest Mississippi! It was going to be an adventure.

An adventure it surely was! The mountain air was sweet-smelling and not as humid as southern Mississippi air, and the Ozarks of Missouri definitely delivered on wildlife and wildflowers.

The Current River flows southeasterly out of the Ozarks into Arkansas. Eventually, it becomes a tributary to the Black River, the White River and the mighty Mississippi.

Current River is approximately 184 miles long, starts out at about 900 feet above sea level, and at the mouth it lies around 280 feet above sea level. The upper part of the river and its tributaries have been federally protected since 1964 as the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, the first national park in America to protect a river system.

The Scouts and trained adult leaders were ready for their trek into the wilderness. The Current River has ideal conditions for trout fishing, so many of the Scouts packed fishing tackle.

Tropical Storm Cristobal had a different idea. Though Scouters only experienced a light rain while camping Monday night and Tuesday morning, the watershed of the area gained enough water to raise the river more than six feet.

The Current River is spring-fed and Welch Spring, where the group began, enters the river early and nearly doubles the flow of the river. Other notable springs that add to the river include Cave Spring, Pulltite Spring and Round Spring.

The extra rain caused treacherous conditions that closed the river for two days. By Thursday the weather and water were back to perfect, and what was planned for Monday and Tuesday was covered all in one float.

Though it was an abbreviated trip, the Scouts explored a waterfall, caves and an abandoned hospital built as a retreat for people with asthma. They saw four different kinds of turtles — the three-toed box turtle, red eared sliders, eastern spiny softshell and a common snapping turtle.

A few canoers pointed out snakes in the water or on the banks but got only quick glimpses to determine they were nonpoisonous. A colorful wood duck with a female was spotted, and later another female with two small ducklings swam below the shady dolomite overhangs.

Several deer were seen along the banks, and every night the campers were plagued with raccoons. Wild horses grazed along the roadside near the Round Spring campground where the Scouts made base camp.

The crew dubbed themselves the Current River Castaways, and they hope to return to complete their trek later this year. The Scouts meet in small groups in McComb or virtually, and activities are always family-friendly.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Mississippi flag design process: Elvis has left the building

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The new Mississippi state flag will not include beer cans, crawfish, a caramel cake, Elvis or Kermit the Frog.

Mississippi recently retired the last state banner with the Confederate battle emblem that’s widely condemned as racist. A nine-member commission will recommend a replacement that cannot include the Confederate symbol and must have the phrase, “In God We Trust.”

The public submitted nearly 3,000 designs, and the commission narrowed that to 147 proposals that were posted Monday to the state Department of Archives and History website. Lost in the first round were designs with food items and celebrities.

Many of the remaining designs have magnolias and stars. Some have wavy lines that could represent the waters of the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. The oddball among the survivors has a giant mosquito surrounded by a circle of stars.

On Friday, the nine commissioners will meet and choose the final five. By early September, they will agree on a single design to put on the Nov. 3 statewide ballot.

The commissioners — who were appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker — could accept one of the public submissions, combine elements from different designs or start from scratch and draw their own.

Mississippi had used the same Confederate-themed flag since 1894, when white supremacists in the Legislature set the design amid backlash to political power that African Americans gained during Reconstruction. People who voted in a 2001 election chose to keep the flag, but the symbol remained divisive in a state with a 38% Black population.

All eight of Mississippi’s public universities and a growing number of cities and counties stopped flying the state flag in recent years.

For decades, Mississippi legislative leaders said they couldn’t find consensus in the House and Senate to change the banner. Republican Tate Reeves was elected governor in 2019 after saying that if the flag were to be reconsidered, it should only be done in another election.

Momentum shifted in early June, after the May 25 killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The Black man’s death sparked global protests against racial injustice and reinvigorated debates about Confederate symbols. Within weeks, leaders from business, religion and education were lobbying Mississippi legislators to ditch the flag and replace it with a more inclusive design.

Two college sports organizations leveraged their power. The Southeastern Conference said it might bar league championships in Mississippi unless the state changed the flag. The NCAA said that because of the Confederate symbol on the flag, Mississippi could not host events determined by teams’ performances, which would affect sports such as baseball, women’s basketball and softball.

Reeves agreed to sign the bill to retire the old flag after it became clear that legislators had the two-thirds majority they would need to override a veto.

If voters accept the commission’s proposal, that design will become the new flag. If they reject it, commissioners will draw a new design and that will go on the ballot later.

____

Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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