Rangers kick off new tours

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; A mix of residents and tourists strolled along the bluff Saturday morning, learning about Natchez and Mississippi River history in the first of a summer-long series of free walking tours.

Sponsored by the National Park Service, the tours will continue today and Monday and then every Saturday through the summer.

Park Ranger Ginger Cox was expecting about 20 people to show up for the downtown tour Saturday &045; but about 35 joined the group.

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Many of those were residents &045; some tour guides themselves &045; who chimed in with bits of knowledge or advice on additional tourist spots in Natchez.

&uot;I like this input,&uot; Cox said.

The series of free tours is a first for the park service, which has held other tours in the past. The park service owns the antebellum house Melrose as well as the William Johnson House, which is under renovation in downtown Natchez. The hope is that in the future the Johnson House would be included in other downtown tours.

Cox spent about 30 to 40 hours researching her topic &045; &uot;The Nile of the New World&uot; &045; and peppered her presentation with facts and figures, quotes about the river and even props such as a fur pelt and a tiny alligator.

&uot;This is the mighty Mississippi,&uot; she told tour participants as she stood on the bluff. &uot;The name is Algonquin and means ‘father of rivers.’&uot;

Cox’s presentation focused on the history of the river as well as its changing nature &045; and its effect on the culture of the people who have lived along its banks.

Barbara Berkemeyer is no stranger to Natchez &045; she and her husband, area native Ronnie Berkemeyer, were married at the Gazebo along the bluffs. But having grown up in West Virginia and Florida, the Jackson resident knows little about the city’s history.

&uot;I am hungry for more,&uot; she said, adding that Saturday’s tour was a good introduction to that history.

&uot;It was a little appetizer,&uot; said her husband, who brought his two granddaughters along for the tour.

Tours begin at 10 a.m. at the corner of Washington and Canal streets.

Today’s tour topic is &uot;Flags Over Natchez,&uot; while Monday’s focuses on &uot;The Moneyed and the Middle Class.&uot;

Future tours will explore the churches of downtown Natchez, Cox said.

All tours are free to the public. Call 442-7047 for information.