Lack of money puts Collier center on hold

Published 11:49 am Thursday, April 21, 2011

All work on a $6 million facility planned in Rolling Fork by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to showcase the state’s wildlife and the environment has been suspended due to a lack of funds, the Corps said Wednesday.

Funding for engineering and design for the future Multi-Agency Interpretive and Educational Center was rescinded in the FY 2011 Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, signed April 15 by President Barack Obama, said a news release from the Corps’ Vicksburg District. The bill cut $40 million in non-defense discretionary programs and averted a government shutdown.

In May 2010, the Corps had dubbed it the Holt Collier Interpretive and Education Center and predicted opening it to the public by early 2012. A new, 3,800-square-foot building was purchased to house wildlife exhibits from around the state and host educational programs as part of a collaboration of the Corps, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Rolling Fork and Sharkey County.

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The iconic Red Barn off U.S. 61 in Rolling Fork was included in the purchase and, though not considered by the Corps to be part of the interpretive center, a plaque explaining the significance of the barn was to be placed inside the center.

No legislation exists to date that names the center or authorizes its opening, operation or maintenance after it is built, the release said.

The site has been in the works for years and was first authorized in 2004. The 33-acre site in Rolling Fork was chosen from 74 sites in five Mississippi counties originally considered, including Warren, Issaquena, Washington and Yazoo.

Collier, a former slave, guided President Theodore Roosevelt on a bear hunt in Sharkey County in 1902 that led to the creation of the teddy bear after the president refused to shoot a bear that had been corralled for him.

Exhibits mentioned when the Corps picked Rolling Fork included homages on Collier and the bear hunt, explanations of Native American burial mounds found on the site, the Steele Bayou campaign during the Civil War and the overall ecological and cultural significance of the Mississippi Delta.