Jenkins takes on interim role at park

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 14, 2005

NATCHEZ &8212; One of the Natchez National Historical Park&8217;s best resources just might be sitting behind a desk at headquarters.

With the departure of former Superintendent Keith Whisenant late last month for a deputy superintendent position at Florida&8217;s Everglades National Park, park Resource Manager Kathleen Jenkins has stepped into the role of interim superintendent.

She&8217;ll be the first to say it&8217;s been a learning curve, since she now has to deal with what she calls &8220;the administrative side of things,&8221; including learning her way around the budget for the newly-started fiscal year.

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But when it comes to knowing her way around the park itself, the Vicksburg native is a pro. In the last 13 years, she&8217;s worked her way up from a museum tech position at the Park Service-owned antebellum house Melrose to managing all of the park&8217;s resources.

Those include the blufftop Fort Rosalie site and the William Johnson House, a restoration of a house once owned by a free black businessman in the 19th century.

The historical research process, for one thing, is incredibly rewarding, Jenkins said. &8220;Finding a Xerox copy of a letter with part of a library stamp on it, then finding that library has 1,000 letters describing (life at Melrose),&8221; she said. &8220;I&8217;m thrilled every time something like this happens.&8221;

The National Park Service hasn&8217;t chosen the park&8217;s next permanent superintendent. &8220;I don&8217;t think it&8217;s even been advertised yet,&8221; said Jenkins.

But whether she&8217;s chosen for that position or not, she still has a clear vision for the park she&8217;s grown to love, as well as a busy to-do list in the short term.

At present, the park is busy finishing renovation of the dairy and kitchen areas of Melrose and conducting archeological tests on the land it owns at the Rosalie site. While the park only owns a small piece of the entire site so far, until it can get the rest &8220;we&8217;ll focus on the best way to interpret what land we do have,&8221; Jenkins said.

Next, the Park Service will conduct a study on how the Forks of the Road, site of one of the South&8217;s largest slave markets in the 19th century, should best be interpreted for the public. That study will take about two years to complete.

Beyond that, Jenkins would like to see the park become more involved with area schools and continue what she sees as one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of working at the Natchez park &8212; telling the stories of the area&8217;s diverse populations.

When it comes to the stories left to tell &8212; and the ways there are to tell them &8212; &8220;there are no boundaries,&8221; she said.