Vicksburg Tourism: Nature a great natural resource in area

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 10, 2010

These stories are the fourth in a series by staff writer Steve Sanoski and journalism students from the University of Mississippi. On Thursday: Tapestry and other annual events.

It’s right there. It’s easy to see. And that may be the problem.

“Certainly Vicksburg has a lot to offer, but there are very few towns that have what in our minds is a world-class natural resource — the greatest natural resource in our country.”

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The project

Five journalism students from the University of Mississippi spent — Aline Carambat, Andrew Mullen Scott, Elizabeth Pearson, Donica Phifer and David Hopper — two days in Vicksburg last month — to gather and report on the future of tourism in the area. Their stories, directed by reporter Steve Sanoski and Executive Editor Charlie Mitchell, are being published through Friday.

Scroll down to see video

Part 1: If you build it, they will come

Part 2: Military park looks ahead to 150th anniversary

Part 3: Vibrancy for residents might hold key to city future

Part 4: Limited public transit is a driving concern

Part 5: No crystal ball on convention center hotel

So said Bruce Reid, director of Audubon Mississippi, which has its state headquarters on Washington Street in Vicksburg. It is a division of the National Audubon Society, a private conservation organization supported by philanthropy.

He was talking about the Mississippi River and its myriad benefits. “To varying degrees,” Reid said, “people don’t know about it or appreciate it.”

There’s little doubt that the coming generation will be more “eco-aware” than previous generations, largely due to school curriculums that have been updated to include environmental awareness.

That puts Vicksburg in prime position to attract nature tourists, people who want to know more about the habitat and species here and to explore it as observers, or by managed hunting and fishing.

Tara Wildlife near Eagle Lake is a world-class preserve and hunting destination becoming equally well-known for its bird-watching events. Chotard Landing on an oxbow lake formed by the river offers cabins and condos. The Sweet Olive tour boat offers daily narrated excursions onto the river from its docking place at City Front. Directories list an increasing number of outfitters and tour guides.

Reid said Vicksburg life once centered on the river The bluffs here, where floodwaters don’t reach, were home to settlements of Native Americans and then to Spanish and French explorers. Then, “The river was a place where the mail moved, where all our goods came from,” Reid said. “But a lot of that has changed. We’ve kind of turned our backs on it.”

But it’s still there, and it will have a role in our future beyond economic considerations. “We have erected levees and other things that kind of block the access in a lot of ways, and we’ve managed this river system in a way that is less sustainable over time,” Reid said. “We are working with organizations like the (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) and river communities on up and down the systems, down into the Louisiana marshes and up to Minneapolis on how people can understand the river as tourists and also appreciate what the river means as far as its future and our future.”

Audubon is not directly involved with tourism development. It’s role is not to fill hotels with travelers. But Reid said efforts are under way to coordinate with others on cycling, hiking, canoeing and other nature-based activities because more participation will lead to more understanding, more understanding will lead to more appreciation and more appreciation will lead to more conservation. It’s called the Mississippi River Initiative.

“We’ve developed a nature tourism task force of 20 organizations up and down the river,” Reid said. “We had a big nature tourism workshop a couple of years ago in Vicksburg and we are working to make that to be a resource and an organizing entity at Audubon and working with state and local tourism agencies, other conservation groups, local watershed groups, cities and towns.”

A plus, Reid said, is that unlike more populated areas, while habitat in Vicksburg could be better, conservation is a far bigger challenge elsewhere. “Most of the land of the lower Mississippi is privately owned, and a lot of it is managed very well as hunting clubs,” he said. “The private landowners do a wonderful job in most cases of taking care of their land. They might be interested in deer and turkey, but they provide a tremendous habitat for the wildlife.”

To enhance nature tourism, Reid said more guides with more local expertise and the infrastructure for interested travelers to tap that expertise more easily would be helpful.

“I think people want to enjoy nice meals, then they want to get outside,” Reid said. “They want to enjoy low cost, family-friendly experiences. They need to feel that is readily accessible and at their disposal, which takes time to do.

This is a town that sits on a great natural system,” he said. “There are people from all over the world that certainly come here with the river as one of their reasons. They want to come and see the river.”

Donica Phifer is a student at the University of Mississippi.