VNMP leadership changes hands
Published 9:00 am Monday, February 9, 2015
Though the locations are new, the latest and most recent leaders of Vicksburg National Military Park have found themselves in familiar situations.
Mike Madell left VNMP Friday for a position as deputy superintendent at Acadia National Park in Maine, and acting superintendent Bill Justice takes the reins temporarily beginning Monday.
“I already violated something I said I would never do again. I kind of developed a pattern of coming into parks during major anniversaries,” Madell said last week.
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Madell was superintendent of Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site during the 50th anniversary of desegregation and led VNMP though the sesquicentennial of the Siege of Vicksburg. In Maine, he will be planning for the 100th anniversary of the park and the centennial of the National Park Service, both in 2016.
Justice comes to Vicksburg from the Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Park in Kentucky. He will be in Vicksburg for at least four months as the National Park Service searches for Madell’s fulltime replacement.
“As far as anything else, we’ll see what happens,” Justice said.
Justice worked at Natchez National Historical Park from 1995 until 2001 — a crucial time for development of the park.
“There was a lot of planning work and development that needed to happen that could have not happened without a lot of community involvement and support,” Justice said.
Here, Justice will have the opportunity to begin work on a major land acquisition and development project that passed Congress late last year.
“There’s a lot of work ahead of us on that,” Justice said.
In December, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, part of which gives the National Park Service authorization to add battlefield land at Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond. The park’s management team soon will begin working with the Southeast Regional Office in Atlanta to start the planning process for acquiring and developing more than 11,000 acres.
“That’s certainly an accomplishment. They’re blank chalkboards right now. The potential of what they may become down the road is almost infinite and it would have been fun to have been here as those start to evolve and develop,” Madell said.
The expansion will be challenging, but Justice is already experienced with managing parceled parks.
“The new additions in particular will make it possible for us to tell the story of the entire campaign,” Justice said. “This is an important addition to the park. This is the only example I can think of in the county where an entire military campaign will be taken into a single park.”
The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace is essentially split into two parks, Justice said. One is a set of memorials on the site of the cabin where Lincoln was born, and the other on the Knob Creek farm where Lincoln grew up.
“The Knob Creek farm today is the most pristine and little changed of all the places that Lincoln lived,” Justice said.
Madell spent five years at Vicksburg National Military Park, during which recreational activities in the park increased, park interpretative programs expanded and several monuments and memorials were relocated or revamped in addition to the sesquicentennial celebration in 2013.
“I certainly had a role and I did what I could but in every case it was truly a team effort. And by that I don’t only mean the staff, who are obviously great, but also the community. That’s one thing that’s really unique about Vicksburg and I hope folks realize the connection between the park and the community. It’s worth its weight in gold,” Madell said.