Friends of VNMP celebrate 100 years of national parks

Published 10:04 am Friday, October 7, 2016

In the plaza between the USS Cairo and the museum housing its artifacts, a crowd gathered to watch the sun drop behind the trees into the Mississippi River, and enjoy conversation with friends and acquaintances.

The Friends of the Vicksburg National Park and Campaign’s Centennial Sunset Reception at the Cairo drew 100 people paying $100 per person to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, raise funds for the Friends, and watch a sight few people outside the park’s employees get to see — the sunset over the park’s National Cemetery.

The money raised by the reception will go to help the organization provide programs and assist the park staff in telling the story of the Vicksburg Campaign.

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“The Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Parks & Campaign is our nonprofit partner,” park Superintendent Bill Justice said. “They help us a lot with programs like the annual (Memorial Day) concert. We are very fortunate to have them helping the park.”

“This is going very well,” said Bess Averett, Friends executive director. “We have people from across the state as well as people from Warren County. We’re very excited.”

One of those visitors was Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, who attended the event with his wife Elee.

“My wife is as board member of Friends of the Park,” he said. “The board is excited about the opportunity that exists to expand the Military Park and grow with it.”

Pete Perry from Jackson said he came to enjoy the evening. He was on the Cairo with Park Ranger Will Wilks, dressed as a lieutenant in the Union Navy who was discussing some of the finer points of the Cairo. “We’re out here to help people and answer any questions they may have,” he said. During a short program at the reception, Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Crear talked about the park and the features that made it special, like the monument to the Colored Union Soldiers, and the National Cemetery, the largest in the country with 18,000 soldiers from every war from the Civil War to Vietnam buried there.

“When I was a child, I would ride my bike through the park to Halls Ferry Road and not even think about the history here or how sacred this ground was,” he said. “What you are standing on is hallowed ground.

“The Vicksburg National Military Park is too large for Vicksburg to hold. It’s the No. 1 visitor attraction in Mississippi. It belongs to all of us.”

Justice discussed plans to expand the park, which includes the proposed acquisition of the Champion Hill, Port Gibson and Raymond battlefields increasing the park’s 1,800-reach to more than 11,000 square acres — a plan that includes approaching willing sellers for battlefield sites.

“Vicksburg is a story of triumph and defeat, and this park tells that story,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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