Shaping the future of OUR PARK

Published 10:20 am Thursday, January 30, 2014

I had the opportunity on Monday to help shape the future of one of the most important places in American history.
About 30 of us showed up at Vicksburg National Military Park for its open house and public comment session on its forthcoming foundation document — fancy language for a renewed look at why the park is important and where resources should be utilized in the future.
If it was just too cold Monday for you get out and put in your 2 cents on the park’s future in person, it’s not too late. Public comment is open online at www.parkplanning.nps.gov/vick until Feb. 7.
VNMP is, as Dr. Lamar McMillin put it, “Vicksburg’s park, and we need to take ownership.” We owe it to our community to let the park know our thoughts.
Here’s a look at the six questions NPS officials are asking and my thoughts on each of them.
1. What is most important about Vicksburg National Military Park?
I feel most people would say monuments and USS Cairo are the most important things VNMP has to offer. It is considered The Art Park of The World, and the Cairo is the Civil War’s only surviving city-class ironclad gunboat. These are fantastic teaching tools, but to me, the most significant thing about the park is that it is a monument to American courage and a reminder of how fortunate we are today. To me, the park is a testament to how brutally human beings treat each other when we fail to address issues that divide us.
2. What are the greatest threats to Vicksburg National Military Park?
In my opinion, the greatest threat to the park is the potential for losing its audience. Unlike national parks that focus on beautiful and unique aspects of nature, historic battlefields have somewhat of a stigma associated with them. To help reduce this stigma, the park service must continue to reach out to traditionally undeserved groups such as African Americans and women.
3. What should citizens and visitors know about Vicksburg National Military Park?
Vicksburg residents and visitors to the park should know that the park is for everyone and is a part of ever American’s history. Regardless of your race, creed or color, the events that unfolded on the battlefield shaped every American’s life.
4. What are challenges and/or opportunities related to the protection of historic resources at Vicksburg National Military Park?
There are numerous challenges and opportunities to protect historic resources at the park, but foremost in my mind is preservation of the USS Cairo. The last-of-its-kind gunboat is under a canopy, but if future generations are to have the awe-inspiring experience of walking aboard the Cairo in the footsteps of Civil War sailors, the boat must be in an enclosed structure. It can only take so many more harsh, humid Mississippi summers.
5. What are challenges and/or opportunities related to the protection of natural resources at Vicksburg National Military Park?
I could talk about a lot of things here from erosion to wild hogs, but my favorite use and management of natural resources is the park’s Heritage Garden. The garden utilizes what was a vacant patch of grass to showcase plants that were commonly grown in the Civil War era. Walking through the garden is like taking a step into the past.
6.  What are challenges and/or opportunities related to the protection of recreational use at Vicksburg National Military Park?
VNMP is a great place to go walking, and many Warren County residents use it nearly every day for recreation. The park could draw even more people if its two hiking trails were cleared and maintained regularly. The park has a 7-mile trail and a 14-mile trail, though I feel like most people don’t know about them.

Josh Edwards is a reporter. He can be reached by email at josh.edwards@vicksburgpost.com