Governor, award honor city’s works to protect its history|[08/17/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 17, 2007

Vicksburg has been blessed by generations of people who fought to preserve its history, Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday.

The governor’s visit was part of a celebration to honor the designation of Vicksburg, along with 13 other Mississippi cities, as Preserve America communities.

&#8220It’s a wonderful thing for our children and for ourselves to have the chance to learn of our history,” Barbour said to the 110 people who filled the Southern Cultural Heritage Center auditorium, built in 1885. &#8220Preserving, honoring and displaying our past can be so valuable to our future.”

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Preserve America, begun in 2003, is a White House initiative that encourages and supports community efforts to preserve and enjoy cultural and natural heritage. Vicksburg’s designation was announced March 9, 2006, in Washington, D.C. As a result of the federal designation, the city will receive a $100,000 grant from the program. Vicksburg is one of three Mississippi communities to be awarded Preserve America funding. In addition to those communities, a statewide grant was awarded to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

The application for the grant came from the city, said Charlotte Koestler, who worked on the proposal as the interim director of the Vicksburg Warren Community Alliance for much of 2005 and, along with City Planner Wayne Mansfield, represented Vicksburg in Washington.

While at the time the funds were not earmarked for any specific project, the city has since decided to use the funds to commemorate the Vicksburg Campaign as part of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. The project will include Port Gibson and Raymond to emphasize the regional impact of the campaign. The anniversary celebration, although not official until 2011, will begin next year, Koestler said.

The three communities will pool Preserve America funds to consolidate efforts and bring visitors to the area to celebrate the history.

Monika Mayr, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, has been spearheading this local effort for more than a year. She said Thursday’s event was the first major event to get the ball rolling. The celebration will include demonstrations, re-enactments of battles, statewide cemetery luminaries and educational seminars.

&#8220It gives us the wherewithall to coordinate all the communities that are involved,” she said.

The grant funds will be used to raise awareness about the sesquicentennial events and educate tourism providers, such as bus companies and travel agencies, Mayr said.

&#8220It’s exciting – it really is,” she said. &#8220And, Vicksburg showed up today. That just demonstrates so much for our heritage.”

John Nau, chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, of which first lady Laura Bush is honorary chair, led the hour-and-a-half program and announced the 14 Mississippi Preserve America communities. Representatives from each community received a certificate of recognition.

&#8220Historical preservation is more than the sum of its parts,” Nau said. &#8220It’s about economic development, urban and local community revitalization, unparalleled opportunities of learning, who we are, conserving energy, improved citizenship and an improved understanding of international people and simply having fun.”

In describing Preserve America, Mitch Butler, deputy assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, borrowed Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens’ campaign slogan &#8220Be a Part of It” to describe the mission of the national program.

&#8220Be a Part of It’- I wish I had thought of that. That’s what Preserve America is all about,” he said.

To date, 521 communities throughout the United States have been named Preserve America. About $5 million is included in the federal budget to support community efforts to demonstrate uses of historic sites and the economic and educational opportunities related to heritage tourism. The designated Preserve America communities and neighborhoods make up one-fifth of the nation’s landscape, which is 500 million acres, Butler said.

&#8220It’s great to welcome new communities. I can’t tell you how grateful we are for the work you’ve done,” he said. &#8220We have an opportunity to touch the past and invest in how the past touches us.”

Barbour applauded Vicksburg for its efforts as a tourism destination.

&#8220With tourism, preservation is an enormous part and a huge asset,” he said. &#8220I don’t need to tell Vicksburg that. Y’all already get it. You’re already a ‘part of it.’”