Heritage tourism gets federal dollars

Published 11:50 pm Thursday, June 5, 2008

NATCHEZ — Natchez has the William Johnson house, the Forks of the Road or the Rhythm Night Club site, and now, they have the money to market them.

The Natchez National Historical Park has received $5,000 through the African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation to create a strategic plan for heritage tourism.

While the planning process won’t really be set in motion until September, tourism officials are pleased to know that a plan will be formed.

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Kathleen Jenkins, superintendent of the park, said it’s the mission of the park service to represent all people of Natchez.

“That’s really what lies behind this,” she said. “This is a chance to bring everyone to the table.”

And all tourism entities will be involved in the planning process — the Natchez Association for the Preservation of African-American Culture the Friends of the Forks of the Road Natchez Pilgrimage Tours and more.

“Everyone is excited about this project and it’s very needed,” Jenkins said.

Ser Seshs Ab Heter- C.M. Boxley, director of the Friends of the Forks of the Road, agreed that having a plan to bolster heritage tourism is crucial.

“The plan is being designed to help the Natchez National Historical Park achieve equal history commemoration and preservation and presentation and interpretation,” Boxley said. “It’s about time.”

Tourism Director Connie Taunton said the plan will bring all black sites together.

“I think this gives us a chance to really put together a marketing tool for our heritage tourism,” Taunton said.

Darrell White, director of the NAPAC museum, said it’s important for everyone to work together.

“It’s important that in order for (the plan) to be effective we must all operate collectively, similar to five fingers on one hand,” he said. “There’s far more strength when they come together as a fist.

“Each entity has been attempting to operate independently and it’s time for us all to come together.”

Natchez has plenty of black historical sites to tap into.

“It’s a gold mine,” Boxley said referring to Natchez. “Now we’re posed to be able to mine its slavery, Civil War and Civil Rights gold mine.”

And the time is right, as heritage tourism is gaining more popularity.

“There’s more and more interest in heritage tourism,” Jenkins said.

Mimi Miller, director of programs for the Historic Natchez Foundation, said the same.

“There’s an increase in heritage tourism,” she said. “If you’re not a historic town you can’t decide to be one. We’re one of America’s best historic towns.

“We know we have all the components and we need to strengthen it and make sure that everyone else knows that we’re one of the greatest historic towns.”

Jim Coy, manager of Natchez Pilgrimage Tours, implemented a heritage tour this year during Pilgrimage.

“The Other Side of the Story,” took Majestic American passengers to Melrose, Forks of the Road, NAPAC and more.

“I’ve heard wonderful comments and reports from people on the boat who’ve taken this tour,” he said.

The park has partnered with the Mississippi Heritage Trust to help them create the plan.

“We passed the grant money to them and they’re spearheading the process from this point forward,” Jenkins said.

David Preziosi, executive director of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, said they are going to hire a consultant to help form the plan.

“We’ll be following through with the consultant to make sure they get the work done,” he said.

Correction (June 6, 2008) — The story published in the Friday, June 6, edition of The Natchez Democrat about the grant received from the African American Experience Fund of the National Park Foundation incorrectly stated the amount of money awarded. The Natchez National Historical Park received $5,000. The above story has been corrected. We regret the error.