All hands on controls at new river museum

Published 11:44 am Thursday, January 5, 2012

Visitors to the Lower Mississippi River Museum and Riverfront Interpretive Center will be allowed to tinker with the system of floodways and levees used by the Corps of Engineers to hem the river in its banks.

Virtually, that is, senior project manager Mike Renacker said Wednesday.

Once the $23 million project opens in August, a 12-foot display will allow visitors to touch options that will show how flood control features on the river, such as the New Madrid Floodway and the Morganza Spillway, affect the Mississippi River and Tributaries System.

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“It’s not just a levee system that keeps the Mississippi River open and protects people on both sides,” Renacker told the Vicksburg Lions Club. “It’s an entire system of flood control methods and different floodways.”

Another exhibit in the interpretive center to complement an orientation theater, classrooms and meeting space will have moving glass plates to simulate the creation of oxbow lakes on the river between Mississippi and Louisiana since 1775. Exhibits should be in place by July, Renacker said. A staff of three to five people will work in the complex, which has the retired MV Mississippi IV as its centerpiece, Renacker said.

The Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center will build a scale model of the river’s path between Greenville and Natchez to attract children to play in it. A new mock-up was needed when moving an older ERDC model went over-budget, Renacker said. Moving the Fairground Street Bridge to the downtown museum — mentioned prominently in the museum’s early phases — also has been shelved. It would have cost about $10 million; the project ended 2011 with about $2.5 million left in its allocation from the Corps.

Ground was broken in 2009 on the museum. The museum concept began in earnest in 1995, when the city purchased the retired towboat for $1. The title was returned to the Corps in 2007, when the vessel was slow-rolled down Washington Street to the museum site on the west side of Washington Street between Jackson and China streets.