Federal officials have responded to calls for help with the Vicksburg National Military Park
Published 3:46 pm Friday, February 28, 2020
Who says a personal letter doesn’t work these days?
Monday, Mayor George Flaggs Jr. sent a letter to President Trump asking for the his intervention in getting federal assistance to speed up desperately needed repairs at the Vicksburg National Military Park.
In the letter, Flaggs detailed that nearly a third of the park is closed off to visitors due to damage to roads, significant erosion and widespread weather-related damage caused by heavy rains, including damage to and near the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery.
“Much of the unexpected erosion damage is concentrated in the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery, the second-largest military cemetery in our nation,” Flaggs wrote in his letter to Trump. “Graves of our American heroes are in jeopardy — some of which are already covered in mudslides from the natural disaster.
“The area most at risk is an older section of the cemetery where unknown burials from the 1860s took place, and the United States Colored Troops are interred.”
The Post confirmed Friday that not only has the White House received the mayor’s letter, but that it was already handed off to officials with the Department of the Interior, the agency that oversees the National Park Service.
Also, this week, top officials with the Department of the Interior contacted Flaggs’ office for additional details on the damage to the park and gave an update on what steps are being taken to address many of the concerns detailed in the letter.
The letter also comes on the heels of U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s visit to the park on Feb. 21 and comments she made that making repairs to the park’s infrastructure would be among her top priorities once returning to Washington.
“We are so grateful for the support of Senator Hyde-Smith, Mayor Flaggs, and the rest of the community for advocating for our park in this crisis,” Friends of Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign Executive Director Bess Averette said. “The White House responded to the mayor’s letter the same day and within 24 hours had a representative from the Secretary of the Interior in talks with Mayor Flaggs’ office. We have been assured that the VNMP and Vicksburg National Cemetery repairs are a priority.”
Averette also said a National Park Service Incident Management Team of regional experts is being organized and will be in the park by Sunday. They are scheduled to work to stabilize some of the damage in the park to mitigate further damage and begin to make a plan for a permanent solution.
“In emergency situations, our park needs friends the most,” Averette said. “This community and its leaders continue to be valuable friends to our National Park and put action above words when it is time to help.”
In addition to Flaggs calls for the park to be repaired due to the historic significance of many of the areas damaged, restricting access to visitors hurts Vicksburg’s tourism industry.
“Beyond being hallowed ground, the Vicksburg National Military Park and the Vicksburg National Cemetery are the most-visited attractions in the State of Mississippi,” Flaggs wrote.
Laura Beth Strickland, executive director of the Vicksburg Visitors and Convention Bureau, echoed Flaggs’ comments about the importance the military park plays on the local economy.
“The Vicksburg National Military Park is the major attractor driving tourism for not only Vicksburg but for this entire region. Our park welcomes over half a million visitors annually,” Strickland said. “Many of these visitors come on motorcoach tours and on riverboat excursions traveling from around the country and the world. Maintaining the park where our visitors can receive the full experience is vital to our success, and we are so grateful that our elected officials understand the importance and are working together to protect this asset.”
Established in 1866, the National Cemetery covers 116 acres and holds the remains of 18,000 people. More than 17,000 are Union troops that are buried at the cemetery — more than in any other national cemetery — including 6,000 United States Colored Troops.
The cemetery has been closed to burials since 1961.