Pemberton Headquarters to see ‘a few’ tours in ’08|[12/21/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 21, 2007

Pemberton Headquarters, the Crawford Street residence acquired by the Vicksburg National Military Park in 2003, will welcome visitors for “at least a few days” this summer due to an increase in funds approved Wednesday and sent to President Bush, said park Superintendent Monika Mayr.

The total amount of funds the park will receive for 2008 has not been announced, but officials have target numbers with which to plan for the coming year, including adding the historic home as a tour stop. The official budget amount is expected at the first of the year.

Congress has cut the overall budget by 1.5 percent, which will affect pay raises and seasonal hires at the VNMP. Although the percentage doesn’t have a huge impact on what will be received in 2008, over time, the park’s budget will be affected, Mayr said.

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“It slowly erodes the base budget,” she said.

Funding for 10 seasonal positions, originally planned at $117,000 but cut by $1,750, will still allow VNMP to hire employees who will be able to provide tours of the historic property, once the headquarters for Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton during the Siege of Vicksburg in 1863. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1977 and was acquired by the VNMP for about $750,000. Since acquiring the property, military park officials have received funds to repair and stabilize the building, Mayr said. This was the first year funds were requested to maintain a schedule of employees to keep it open.

“We didn’t get the base increase to fully operate Pemberton, but with additional seasonal positions we’ll be able to open in the summer for some of the days,” Mayr said. “We’d like to be open all the time.”

The park, which preserves much of the siege line of the Civil War battle for Vicksburg, a Confederate stronghold, was authorized by Congress in 1899. Markers tell the story of the struggle here and memorials and monuments honor state detachments. The main park area is contiguous around the city’s perimeter, but additional properties include river overlooks on Washington Street and the Grant’s Canal site in Louisiana.

The funding for the seasonal positions this year will allow for the park to have two to four months of temporary staff, who will perform maintenance and interpretive tasks.

“It’s going to help us bring on a maintenance crew earlier. We can get our grass mowed earlier,” she said. “We’ll be busy.”

Though final dollars haven’t been filtered out, Mayr said the latest budget information indicates 1.5 percent pay increases for current staff, half of the full 3 percent officials initially thought had been awarded. In 2008, the park staff did receive the fully funded raises.

With the exception of last year, pay increases have not been granted for five or six years, Mayr said.

For 2007, Congress allotted enough funds only for the pay increases, a move that put a halt on ongoing projects at the park. This year, funding requests were made in vain for two major VNMP projects, both of which have been recurring requests from park officials. Although it’s on the schedule to receive funds in 2011, a stabilization project at Mint Spring Bluff, a water feature that has an intermittent stream and two natural waterfalls, was one of the requests that did not receive funding for 2008.

The project, which would stabilize a bank preventing further damage to the National Military Cemetery, would require money earmarked for construction projects from the budget, totaling $1,950,000.

“It’s hard money to get,” she said.

The rehabilitation of the Shirley House, the 1830s park structure that withstood the siege and served as a Union hospital, is another that was passed over this year. Unlike Mint Spring Bluff, it is not scheduled to receive the $1,521,000 that has been requested from year to year. It did, however, receive $300,000 in appropriations in 2004, which funded the first phase — restoring the roof, replacing windows, straightening the chimney and reinforcing walls — of the restoration. The house was originally restored in 1902 by the federal government and used as a visitor center and park employee residence until the 1960s. It has remained vacant since.

Mayr said the park will continue to take the projects to the table for possible funding.