City will match funds to keep VNMP open during shutdown

Published 7:27 pm Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park & Campaign have a new ally in its efforts to keep the Vicksburg National Military Park open — the city of Vicksburg.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon approved a resolution to match the Friends’ contributions up to $2,000 a day to keep the park open during the federal government shutdown.

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The organization Dec. 21 announced it was committing funds to keep the park open during the federal government shutdown because the park would not be funded.

Bess Mitchell Averett, executive director of Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park & Campaign, said at the time the tour road, visitor center, U.S.S. Cairo gunboat and museum, the Vicksburg National Cemetery and all restrooms will be kept open.

The cost of keeping the park open is estimated at $2,000 a day.

“We are matching funds the Friends of the park have on hand so the visitors who come to the park from the boats or elsewhere will still have a good park experience,” city attorney Nancy Thomas said.

“This park is one of the most visited sites in Mississippi and has an economic impact (that) every $1 spent in operating costs at the park is a $10 economic benefit to our region, so it’s an investment,” she said.

“It’s sad to say that we’ve come to this point where the highest government of the land has come to an impasse that’s caused a shutdown, and it’s impacting us like we never thought it would,” Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said.

“But when you look at 19 percent of the jobs in this region are related to tourism, and more than $22 million collected in (state and local) taxes in 2017, I think that it’s vital and imperative that we fund this deficit and assure the public that this park will not disturbed or interrupted by the government frustration in Washington, D.C.”

Averett called the board’s decision “a tremendous help; we are a small nonprofit, and we have contributed $24,000 to date to keep it open the last 12 days. We have had the support of very generous donors for almost $18,000 of that, but the tally goes up every day.

“We do not have unlimited resources, so it was very important to us and really huge for Vicksburg that the mayor and aldermen and the city have stepped up and is willing to match those donated dollars to ensure we don’t have to close the park.”

Averett said Friends have also received other donations, including $1,000 from Riverwalk Casino, $2,000 from the Friends of the Raymond Battlefield, $1,000 from Melody and Steve Golding.

“The local community has really come through for us to help us in our efforts,” she said. “An incredibly impressive thing is the number of donors who have given us $25, $50, $100 from all over the country to support the effort of keeping our park open.”

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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