Pilgrimage organizers expect increased participation|[3/24/06]

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 24, 2006

This year’s Spring Pilgrimage begins tonight, and organizers are confident new attention will boost the tours that will run for three weeks.

&#8220The key is to get people from the casinos to the downtown area,” said Colleen Small, owner of Cedar Grove Mansion and director of the tours of historic properties.

Tonight’s gala will be from 6 until 8 at the Shlenker House, 2212 Cherry St.

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Small, appointed in January, said she took the lead position on the Pilgrimage with a deadline looming and a lack of planning.

&#8220Spring was two months away,” she said.

But she remains hopeful.

&#8220By driving tourism, it increases traffic to downtown, to the restaurants, to the businesses, to the casinos,” she said. &#8220More community involvement is going to be vital to seeing Pilgrimage succeed.”

Small came to Vicksburg two years ago from Natchez, where she was involved in that city’s pilgrimage.

She said Natchez has organization and community support that Vicksburg has been lacking for Pilgrimage.

&#8220The tourists know when they go to Natchez they are going to have these homes in the morning and these homes in the afternoon,” Small said. &#8220There’s more of a commitment and dedication to it.”

She said the dedication to pilgrimage in Natchez has stemmed from home-owners learning over the years that the event can be a big money-maker.

Small said advanced planning and advertising are needed to get people to Vicksburg. Beginning this year, more of a focus has been placed on regional advertising, she said.

Carolyn Stephenson, owner of Annabelle, said new rack cards have been printed with the help of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, showing the Pilgrimage dates through 2009.

&#8220Whenever a visitor comes into town, they will know when we will have fall and spring pilgrimage up to 2009,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson also said the group’s Web site, www.vicksburgpilgrimage.com, has been updated.

She said it’s a start in the race to catch up with the popularity of the Natchez pilgrimage.

Mary Lee, owner of Belle of the Bends, praised Small’s leadership as being organized and focused.

&#8220We didn’t have much time, but we’re real excited about moving forward,” Lee said.

She said more people have been involved in the preparation process this year.

&#8220I think it’s going to be a better thing,” Lee said.

Homes on the tours this year are Anchuca Historic Mansion & Inn, Duff Green Mansion, Lakemont, The Mary Harwood, Annabelle, Belle of the Bends, Cedar Grove, Shlenker House, George Washington Ball, Christ Episcopal Church, Stained Glass Manor, The Corners, Cobb House and Martha Vick House.