Vicksburg, Warren County boards to address Riverfront Park status

Published 4:02 pm Friday, February 4, 2022

Riverfront Park, which for years was the most used park in Vicksburg, could be closed permanently.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen and the Warren County Board of Supervisors will discuss the park’s future and a possible joint resolution to close the park at separate meetings Monday. The park is jointly operated by the city and county, which split the park’s operation, maintenance and repairs.

“It looks like it we’re going to discontinue it,” said Mayor George Flaggs Jr., who has recommended closing the park.

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Board of Supervisors President Kelle Barfield declined to comment until after the supervisors have discussed the resolution.

The park’s future has been discussed several times by both boards since it was closed in February 2021 after four slides — two along the riverbank and two covering sections of the park road — were discovered after heavy rains hit the area in January and February.

The total cost to repair the slides is estimated at $664,585. The work has been approved for emergency grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency that cover 75 percent of the eligible project costs. The FEMA grant is a reimbursement grant, meaning the city pays for the work and FEMA reimburses the cost.

“That’s a Band-Aid,” Flaggs said. “And we’ve got no assurance or guarantee that we won’t have to come back. The (Mississippi) River is unpredictable and it’s getting stronger and stronger because of the flood stages.”

Flaggs said at a September meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen that since 2008, the city and county had spent more than $1 million on slide problems.

“You can’t continue to throw money at that property when you can’t control the river and we’ve mitigated that property twice,” Flaggs said recently. “At the same time, it’s a security risk in terms of crime at night.”

The security risk he said, is caused by vagrants using the park as a campground. People have broken into the park’s restrooms and used them as a shelter where they can sleep out of the cold and rain. Also, he said, people are taking copper fixtures from the park facilities.

“We’ve boarded them up I don’t know how many times,” he said. “And once we lock that gate, they’re coming in through access from other ways.”

The city and county own part of the park and lease the northern section of the park from the Cashman family. The property was acquired in 1989 and the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau was to operate the park. The city and county released the VCVB in 1995 and took over the park.

The park was developed with federal Land and Water Conservation funds, which means if the park is closed, the city and county will have to reimburse the money used for the park project — unless a piece of property of equal or greater value than Riverfront Park is found.

There may be a replacement for the park. According to a proposed resolution from the city, two lots owned by Golding Land Co. near Golding Barge Lines are offered as the site for a new park.

“This other (property) will be more valuable,” Flaggs said, adding the city and county will have to get permission from federal and state authorities before the swap can be made. If the exchange is allowed, he said the playground equipment and pavilions would be moved to the new site.

“We’re doing our due diligence now,” he said. “We’ve been down almost two years and I still don’t think we can continue to spend more money down there. It cannot be guaranteed because of the river.”

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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