SUNDAY FOCUS: More planned for military park than just mowing the grass

Published 8:34 pm Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday morning, about 75 volunteers turned out with grass trimmers and took on the task of trimming and clearing tall grass from the markers in the Vicksburg National Military Park National Cemetery as part of an effort to help park officials improve the landscape.

The volunteer workday effort was one of the ways park officials are addressing improving the landscape at the Military Park, which has been affected by manpower issues and caused officials to modify their maintenance program.

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“I want to assure the public that the National Park Service and the Vicksburg National Military Park are committed to properly preserving and maintaining this great, important park and resource for future generations, and particularly in honor of the veterans and the soldiers who fought and in some cases died here,” park Superintendent Bill Justice said.

“We’ve been doing a lot to maintain the landscape. We continue to work with potential contractors and volunteers and partners to preserve the landscape and move forward from here.”

Justice said park officials are presently focusing landscape maintenance efforts on priority areas like the National Cemetery and the immediate areas around the larger memorials and the areas around the visitor centers.

“Other areas are going to be mowed less frequently, so people may see some high grass areas, which for our purposes are a lower priority than places like the National Cemetery and the area immediately around the memorials,” he said.

Driving through the park, visitors can see the results of the policy. In several areas at memorials, there is a clear-cut path between the grass allowing people to walk and get a better look at the memorial, and the grassy areas at the visitor center and the USS Cairo and museum are trimmed.

Part of the motivation for the policy, particularly the National Cemetery and the memorials, Justice said, is because the veterans of the battle of Vicksburg and the campaign worked on the design of the memorials and worked with the War Department, which at the time oversaw the park, to locate them, “So there’s no more fitting tribute than to properly care for the areas around the memorials.”

Park officials are also taking steps to try and ensure the maintenance of the park’s great landscape will be better in the future, he said, adding, “This park has a high standard for maintenance of the landscape and we want to continue that.”

Justice said the park will hold a workshop sometime in September to help people apply for jobs in the National Park Service.

“It will help them be successful (in applying for jobs),” he said. “It’s a lot more difficult than sometimes people realize, and the key to it is to properly characterize your experience, so we’re going to help people through that process through a workshop.

“I continue working with our human resources office to improve the hiring process for the park, and we have also acquired equipment that will help us to be more efficient in maintaining the landscape here.”

Other improvements

Justice said the park has also made some improvements that have been overlooked in the issue over problems with the grass.

“The regimental monuments and the busts, and other smaller monuments, are really cared for,” he said. “We had a preservation crew come in, and we’re building our own monument preservation crew in the park. That will be funded through National Park Service project money.

“We have gone and properly cared for the monuments and waxed the bronze (in the park). We removed the green, which is like a bronze version of rust; it’s the statue deteriorating. So in honor of the men who fought here, we’re caring for them.”

The Federal Highway Administration, Justice said, is preparing the plans for repairs to Confederate and Union avenues. He said work on Confederate Avenue is expected to begin at the end of October. The roads have been affected by erosion problems.

The projects are expected to be completed by next spring.

He said a fence is being installed on Navy Circle off Washington Street to resolve a safety problem, adding the area will be reopened after the fence is installed. South Circle may also reopen in the future.

Justice said developing an in-house monument crew was one of the things he learned during a visit to Gettysburg in 2017. “Having a monument crew in house makes it better for us to care for those monuments,” he said.

He said the workshop for potential employees was planned because “the federal hiring process can be a bit cryptic and difficult to understand, because it’s not just putting together a two-page resume. “There’s more involved and there’s some things that need to be in every application; forms that need to be completed and attached. What we’re going to be doing is helping people understand that whole process so that by understanding, they’re in the best possible place if they’re going to present the best possible reflection of themselves.”

The program, he said, can help put the park “in a great position with large number of candidates we can choose from so that we can give everybody a fair shot.

“We’re working through issues but planning for addressing everything that leads up to next year and a return to high standard of maintenance,” 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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