Interior secretary, singer to be here for park party

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A country music star will join a group of high-ranking dignitaries in Vicksburg next week to help celebrate a $142,000 grant being awarded to the Vicksburg National Military Park.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and country musician Trace Adkins are all scheduled to take part in a public reception beginning at 10 a.m. on Oct. 30, which is sure to draw a bevy of local and state elected officials as well. Park admission fees will be waived for those who wish to attend the reception, which will be staged near the Visitor Center at the William F. Vilas monument. 

The grant is being made available to the park due in large part to the efforts of the nonprofit group The Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Vicksburg Campaign, which raised the required $71,000 local match since forming in January. Harry McMillin, the group’s executive director and a retired Air Force colonel, said the Friends’ work has exceeded his expectations. 

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The National Park Service Centennial Partnership celebration will be near the Visitor Center at the Vicksburg National Military Park at 10 a.m. Oct. 30. Entrance fees will be waived for the celebration, which will feature the unveiling of 12 new historic markers and speakers including the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne, National Park Service Director Mary Bomar and country musician Trace Adkins.

“We thought if we could raise $60,000 in our first year that would be tremendous,” said McMillin. “This is just the beginning. We think the publicity of this event will create even more awareness of what we’re trying to do and allow us to raise more funds to enhance the park further in the future.”

The National Park Centennial Initiative — a 10-year program designed to reinvigorate America’s national parks with support from public and private partners as it gears up for its centennial anniversary — is providing the federal matching funds.

The money will be used to fund the replacement of historical markers originally removed in 1942 as part of the scrap metal drive to help support America’s efforts in World War II. Twelve tablets, all of which will be placed along Confederate lines within the park, will be unveiled at the reception next Thursday. In total, the grant money secured will help replace 144 historical markers, as well as help maintain existing monuments in the park. 

Adkins is not scheduled to perform at the reception, but will help unveil the first group of new historic markers. A native of Spring-hill, La., Adkins has an ancestor who served in the 31st Louisiana Volunteer Infantry during the Siege of Vicksburg and was captured along with the garrison when the city surrendered to the Union on July 4, 1863. One of the markers to be unveiled by Adkins honors the 31st Louisiana Volunteer Infantry.

The Friends will host a private reception for visiting dignitaries and politicians at the Old Court House Museum following the public reception. McMillin said about 75 people have been invited, including civic leaders, elected officials and those who made large donations to the group, as well as Govs. Haley Barbour, Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Rick Perry of Texas.

In addition to one anonymous donor who contributed $35,000 to the Friends, the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau donated $11,000, while the remaining donations have come in smaller amounts over the past 10 months, said McMillin.

The Vicksburg National Military Park is older than the National Park Service, having been established in 1899 to preserve a large portion of the Civil War battlefield located in the city. Nearly 1,400 tablets, monuments and historical markers are located in the park and throughout the city. It is one of 391 parks managed by the National Park Service, which will reach its centennial on Aug. 25, 2016.


Contact Steve Sanoski at