The Forces Behind Waveland's Beach Palms
The folks at “Keep Waveland Beautiful” aren’t afraid of big ideas – and they were determined to beautify the Waveland beach, one tree at a time.
- Story by Dena Temple
- Photos by Dena Temple and Valerie Fitts
Bernie Cullen, says Jim, is “a force of nature.” After retiring from a long career in nursing in Algiers, La., Bernie moved here full-time in 2009. “I knew I wanted to give back to my community and find ways to meet people,” said Bernie. “Volunteering with organizations that interest me was the perfect way to do both.”
A perpetually energetic volunteer determined to make things better, Bernie was named one of the Hancock Chamber’s top 10 Citizens in 2018, and a Community Leader of 2019 by One Coast (Mississippi Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce). She was also featured as a Shoofly Magazine "Good Neighbor" in 2019.
Bernie, however, is quick to point out that the palm tree project was Jim’s idea. “He visited other shore towns along the Gulf and pointed out that Waveland’s three-mile beach had just seven palm trees, and those were planted by residents,” said Bernie. “Thus, a great idea was born.” The plan: plant three palm trees on the beach at every intersection.
Jim picks up the story here. “We approached Waveland’s aldermen for approval first, and they approved. Next we got approval from the Hancock Board of Supervisors, because the county is in charge of all the beaches. Once approved by them, we went to the Mississippi Secretary of State for approval, then back to the Board of Supervisors for their approval to start the project.”
He concluded, “It took almost a year to get the approvals, in all. But we got the approval on a Monday – and by Thursday, we had nine trees planted!”
They partnered with Joe Fecher of South Beach Palms and bought three trees; South Beach Palms donated another three to get the project started. “We were fortunate that we had such great advice and support from Joe Fecher,” said Bernie.
“That was 13 months ago,” said Jim, “and today, there are at least three palms at the end of every street that intersects with Beach Boulevard.” Including the palms around the lighthouse building, the gazebo and the volleyball courts, there are 128 palm trees on the beach, in all.
Positioning the trees sometimes posed a challenge. “There was a bit of a learning curve,” said Jim. “Because the storm drains discharge runoff at the end of every street, we had to move the trees a bit to accommodate.” He admitted, “We failed to do that initially, and they washed out at the first big rain. But we learned from our mistakes.”
Keep Waveland Beautiful was not involved in all tree plantings, but Jim knows the story of every palm tree on Waveland’s beaches. “The trees around the lighthouse were a separate project,” he explains.
“The two largest trees, the ones flanking the lighthouse structure, were donated by the builder of the urgent care clinic on Highway 90. He had to remove nine palms on the property, and we offered to take them as a donation.”
The trees that surround the new gazebo were installed by the City of Waveland, and the trees at the volleyball court were privately donated.
South Beach Palms recommended the Washingtonia robusta, or Mexican fan palm, for the Waveland beach project. They are a fast-growing species native to Sonora, Baja California and northwestern Mexico that can grow to a height of over 80 feet. Like our native live oaks, Mexican fan palms are known to live a very long time (perhaps as long as 500 years), they are salt-tolerant and suited for our Gulf Coast climate.
The trees cost $300 each, and most were donated in lots of three, often by the homeowners on the beach street. Dedication plaques mark all donated trees. The children’s fund of St. Clare’s Catholic Church also donated three palms, in honor of Pope Francis’s directive to make a moral and spiritual connection to the world’s ecosystems.
Children from the church watched as holes were dug for “their” trees, and they helped push sand into the holes once the trees were in place. “Watching a three-year-old lay on his belly and push sand into the hole was just wonderful,” said Jim.
Not all trees were purchased, however, and some have interesting back stories. The palms at the end of Nicholson Avenue, for instance, came from the yard of a homeowner on Nicholson. “The trees were growing too close to her house, but she could not afford to remove them,” explained Jim. “She donated them to the project, and we removed them from her yard and re-planted them on the beach.”
Visitors will note that there are four trees near the foot of Sears Avenue instead of just three. One of the last trees was donated by a former resident who now resides in Arkansas. He recalls playing on the beach at the foot of Sears Avenue, and donated the towering palm planted there in honor of his parents. Once it was planted, he came to Waveland and snapped a photo, which he used on his Christmas card that year.
The project stalled midway, so Bernie and Jim returned to Waveland’s aldermen and requested a donation to complete the project. The request won easy approval because of the popularity of the program, and today there are soon-to-be-swaying palms at every beach intersection along Waveland’s three-mile beach.
The pair could not be happier with the outcome. “This project has exceeded my wildest expectations,” Bernie beamed. “I appreciate the natural beauty the palms add to our beaches. And to me, they represent the love of our community from our citizen donors, our city and our volunteers who made this such a successful endeavor.
“Every time I go to the beach, they make me smile and happy to be living in this piece of paradise,” she concluded.
What’s next for Keep Waveland Beautiful? Bernie replied, “Our next project will be to enhance Gex Park on Coleman Avenue – so many families use this park and love it. Our plans are a surprise, but stay tuned!”
Keep Waveland Beautiful is always looking for new volunteers. Block captains maintain the 300 feet in front of their homes; Jim estimates that they clean one-third of the city’s 117 miles of roads. Other volunteers may help maintain the gardens at the Ground Zero Museum, or participate in coastal cleanups or other improvement projects.
If you are interested in volunteering please contact one of the co-chairs, Bernie Cullen (email@example.com) or Jim Meggett (firstname.lastname@example.org), or complete the block captain form on the organization’s webpage.
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