Community planners want to show U.S. 61 is treasure byway

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 9, 2003

Next to mile markers, city corporate limit signs and road markers may sit a new sign on U.S. 61 soon &045; historic scenic byway.

This path that follows that of the Mississippi River is as rich in culture and history as is its soil and local officials want to showcase that.

Local officials in towns along the road from Vicksburg the Mississippi/Louisiana border have been meeting to work on achieving the designation from the state for the road.

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&uot;The road itself is a major cultural treasure for the whole state,&uot; said Kelly McCaffrey, community planner in Vicksburg. &uot;It’s very diverse. It’s a culture you won’t find anywhere else.&uot;

So far, a preapplication was approved but now the officials must make a formal corridor management plan and hold public hearings.

The towns are hosting a public hearing at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in Natchez at the city council chambers.

The road, already designated the Great River Road all the way to Minneapolis, Minn., is much more than that, McCaffrey said.

McCaffrey said one of the main goals and purposes of seeking the designation is preservation.

And there is much to preserve.

&uot;The key thing, of course, will be the historic sites,&uot; said Walter Tipton, Natchez tourism director. There is &uot;just a treasure chest of sites that are on the national register of historic places.&uot;

To apply for the designation, there are six areas to cover: cultural, historic, scenic, archaeological, natural and recreational. McCaffrey said there are so many things along this road, it was hard to choose just a couple from each place.

There are many themes people that travel along the road can learn, Tipton said. From southern culture prior to the Civil War with many sites dating between the 1716 to 1865 period, to the first European community, to the Civil War with the military parks, to the life of African-Americans in the south from slavery to the Civil Rights movement &045; there are many histories to be told.

This is not to mention other points of interest like historic churches, the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, Emerald Mound, river commerce, riverboat gaming and so much more.

There are &uot;any number of stories about life along the Mississippi that can be found in Vicksburg, Port Gibson, Natchez and Woodville,&uot; Tipton said.

A committee formed of representatives of the city of Vicksburg, Claiborne County, the city of Natchez and city of Woodville will listen to comments for the formal plan to manage the corridor next Tuesday night at the public hearing.

The plan must be submitted to the state scenic byway committee in December, Tipton said, and the earlies they will know is January.

Then, if they make it, it will be submitted for designation in the 2004 Legislative session.

And with the designation, Tipton sees many other benefits, many of which are already coming to fruition even without it.

The first, he told the Adams County Board of Supervisor’s Monday, is the partnership the towns are forming because of this.

&uot;The partnership between Vicksburg, Port Gibson, Natchez and Woodville will be worth the effort because we will find other ways to partner and promote that corridor,&uot; Tipton said.

Another benefit &045; more tourists.

Tipton and McCaffrey agreed the designation would bring more people, but McCaffrey said it would help the smaller places much more because people would travel from the larger towns and see the smaller towns and little-known sites.

&uot;I think it’s going to greatly increase our ability to attract group tours,&uot; Tipton said. &uot;It’s ideal for people who are trying to experience the Deep South.&uot;

But there is still work to be done to get to the state designation, but from there, Tipton said they would move toward a federal designation.

&uot;Once state has designated that a scenic byway, we can apply to the federal government to be a federal scenic byway,&uot; Tipton said.

&uot;Then there’s a federal grant fund available to scenic, nationally recognized roadways, and we could apply for those grants at that point.&uot;

Those grants fund many things, Tipton said, from implementing a corridor management plan to infrastructure to marketing funds.

Very few programs, he said, provide money for marketing.

&uot;It is really the marketing funds I am most interested in,&uot; Tipton said. &uot;It is the marketing funds that really bring the tourist, economic impacts to town.&uot;