Tourism leaders, merchants prep for Spring Pilgrimage

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 6, 2001

John Saleeby has another name for Natchez’s Spring Pilgrimage: &uot;March Madness.&uot;

&uot;There’s a lot of people doing a lot of different things right now,&uot; said the director of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours between answering phones Monday.

Some tour groups have been booked since last year’s Pilgrimage, but others are calling in now to make last-minute arrangements, Saleeby said.

Email newsletter signup

At least 7,000 advance tickets have already been sold and crowds of more than 30,000 are predicted.

Everything is in place for a successful Pilgrimage this year, with the only unplanned detail being the weather, Saleeby said.

Along with national economic conditions, weather is historically a determining factor in Pilgrimage crowds, Saleeby said, especially for &uot;day trippers&uot; who may live within driving distance of Natchez and make their plans only a few days in advance.

Even with months of planning, Saleeby said Pilgrimage can often be hectic as seeming disasters threaten to dismantle organization.

But the ladies of the community’s two garden clubs – Pilgrimage Garden Club and Natchez Garden Club – always seem to hold things together with organization borne of years of experience, he said.

&uot;It may be mayhem outside, but once you get on that porch, you get into a well-organized situation,&uot; Saleeby said.

Walter Tipton, Natchez tourism director, said the Visitor Reception Center is preparing for Pilgrimage with a little spring cleaning of its own.

On Monday, crews were busy mowing grass, cleaning the fountain, and filling racks with brochures.

&uot;It’s kind of like getting a haircut before you go see somebody,&uot; Tipton said.

Tipton said the Natchez Convention and Visitors Bureau stepped up advertising for Pilgrimage this year, using state grants to reach an estimated 40 million people throughout North America and part of Europe.

Richard Burke, city public works director, said his crews are more focused on cleaning up after weekend flooding than beautification, but everything should be ready for the influx of visitors Wednesday.

Area businesses, especially downtown gift shops and bed and breakfast, are gearing up for the month-long event.

Betty Washington at The Guest House on Franklin Street said grounds crews were busy trimming and pruning outdoor plants, but will wait out a predicted cold blast before planting spring flowers.

&uot;We’re just doing what we do every day,&uot; Washington said.

Darby Short, owner of Darby’s gift shop on Main Street, said she traditionally stocks her shelves with new merchandise for Pilgrimage shoppers.

&uot;We count on and look forward to Pilgrimage,&uot; she said. &uot;I don’t think people have a real grasp of the impact it has on Natchez.&uot;

Katherine Killelea, president of Brown Barnett Dixons fine gifts on Main Street, said she they timed shipments of new items in time for Pilgrimage.

To cater to Pilgrimage tourists, books on Natchez and other locally-related items are on display at the front of the store and the storefront windows are being redecorated.

Other than Christmas, Pilgrimage is the biggest season for the gift shop, Killelea said, especially since they serve as registry headquarters for royalty.