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Vicksburg National Military Park is center of city’s tourism industry

The numbers may be down from last year, but the numbers from the recently released National Park Service report on the impact of the Vicksburg National Military Park are still impressive.

According to the report, the 508,915 visitors to Vicksburg National Military Park in 2016 spent about $28 million in communities near the park, supporting 488 local tourism-related jobs outside the park and producing an overall benefit to the local economy of $39.1 million.

That’s a pretty tidy sum to benefit our local economy, especially when you consider most of the money spent locally by our visitors went for hotel rooms and food and beverages.

We have said many times the park is Vicksburg’s crown jewel, and every year the National Park Service report verifies how valuable it is — something that’s recognized by local officials.

Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau director Bill Seratt said the park “is the nucleus of what so much of our tourism product revolves around. We are very fortunate to have that facility here in Vicksburg.”

“It (the military park) is the center of the city of Vicksburg,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said. “It’s the biggest tourist attraction, and it is probably the most toured area of the city.”

But our crown jewel needs more gems around it to shine brighter. That means a combined community effort by local governments and local business and civic leaders to find ways to keep people in the area so they will stay longer and spend more money locally.

There are plans to accomplish that by incorporating the Port Gibson and Champion Hill battlefields into the Military Park experience to tell the story of the Siege of Vicksburg. There are plans for a water park and a sports complex, but they are still visions of the future.

We should promote what we already have — our historic homes and museums like the Jacqueline House, the Old Depot Museum and the Jesse Brent Lower Mississippi Museum and Interpretive Center.

Promoted properly, they can be instruments to get people to stay here longer.

The Military Park’s attraction and its importance and economic influence on our area is immense, but we also need to highlight the local attractions we take for granted. We do that, and we can attract more people. And the economic impact of tourism on our small community will be even greater.