Park in running to be America’s Favorite

Published 12:04 pm Monday, August 16, 2010

The Vicksburg National Military Park could be named America’s Favorite park through an online contest sponsored by the National Park Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company and Dr. Ian Smith, a medical/diet expert on VH1’s “Celebrity Fit Club” and creator of the nationwide 50 Million Pound Challenge.

Through the America Is Your Park campaign, all national and state parks in the United States are in the running to be named the most popular park, a title that comes with a $100,000 cash prize.

Park and tourism officials in Vicksburg are encouraging the public to log on to and cast a vote for the VNMP, which, so far, has collected about 874 votes, about 821,000 fewer than Bear Head Lake State Park in Minnesota, which was in first place this morning with 821,937 votes

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“Coca-Cola has always been a great supporter of the parks,” VNMP superintendent Mike Madell said. “The more we can keep working with Mississippi state tourism and the VCVB (Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau), the more we can bring in tourism.”

Though Madell is unsure how the park would use the potential prize money, he said, “There are many potential uses that we can become real creative with.”

“We have to spread the word,” VCVB Executive Director Bill Seratt added. “The park is our biggest attraction. The more focus we can bring to that, the more we can attract tourists to Vicksburg.”

The campaign, launched July 29, aims to encourage an active lifestyle by supporting and visiting national parks.

“National parks have been part of the American family experience for years, and playing in the park is a simple way for people to lead healthier and more balanced lives,” Dr. Smith said in a press release.

The campaign also encourages people to donate to the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s nearly 400 national parks. The NPF, which works in tandem with the National Park Service, offers grants and programs to help the public connect with the parks.

Donations also are being accepted via the website.

“The Vicksburg National Military Park is the crown jewel of America,” said park historian Terry Winschel. “We are the art park of the world.”

Established in 1899, the 1,800-acre VNMP has about 1,350 historic monuments, markers and tablets.

It also features the country’s largest cemetery for Civil War burials, containing about 18,000 grave sites. The park’s programs include the Living History Program, which features live re-enactments of Civil War battles by volunteers, and Junior Ranger Day, a day for young children to learn about the park’s history through interpretation and hands-on activities.

In April the park was presented by the National Park Service’s Southeast Region with the 2009 Keeper of the Light Award for Interpretive and Educational Excellence for its interpretive programs and new media technology.

Among other accolades, the park was named weeks ago by readers of AAA Southern Traveler, an American Automobile Association publication, as the South’s second-best heritage attraction behind the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

The contest winner will be announced via a news release a week after the voting window closes. A special event at the winning park will take place in September.