Public: Get more involved at VNMP

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Increasing community involvement is vital for the future of Vicksburg National Military Park, members of the public said during the park’s open house and planning meeting Monday.
Approximately 30 people shared their ideas by answering six questions for National Park Service employees. Questions ranged from thoughts on VNMP’s natural and historic resources to challenges faced by the park. Regardless of the question, most answers seemed to point toward a need for Vicksburg and Warren County residents to take more interest in the park.
“I’m pleased to see the local community come out and have a voice in this park,” said Bess Averett, director of Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign. “It’s public land, so it is our land.”
The park’s relationship with Vicksburg is similar to the disconnected “town and gown” effect often seen in college towns, said Dr. Lamar McMillin.
“It’s our park, but as it is, it’s ‘the’ park and ‘those’ tourists who we can sell gas too. This is Vicksburg’s park, and we need to take ownership,” McMillin said.
Most visitors agreed that the parks monuments and artifacts are its greatest assets.
“I think one of the greatest things here is the Cairo and museum,” said Brad Heisler.
The iron-clad is the only remaining city-class gunboat from the Civil War era.
Visitors also laid out problems they see facing the park including erosion, wild hogs and limited funding.
The comment session was part of VNMP’s effort to rework its foundation document, a framework for future decisions based on the park’s most important aspects, said VNMP Superintendent Mike Madell.
Parks typically rework their foundation document every decade, but the one in place now at VNMP was written in 1980.
“What I’m holding in my hand is a relic,” Madell said of the document.
For most parks, reworking the foundation document is an internal process, but VNMP decided to encourage public involvement.
“I wanted this to be a public process. We try to be transparent. This is your national park,” Madell said.
Planners from the National Park Service will be holding a foundation document workshop at VNMP through the end of the month, said Justin Henderson, a planner with the NPS Denver Service Center.
The document will be developed over the spring and summer and completed in the fall he said.
“It moves quickly. It’s a snapshot of what the park is supposed to be about,” Henderson said.