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Staying the course: Natchez to celebrate

The Mississippi River has changed its course numerous times over the years, but the river has never veered from Natchez.

NATCHEZ — Year 2016 might seem like a ways off, but planners of the Natchez tricentennial celebration are focused on getting a strong head start.

Jennifer Ogden Combs, executive director of tricentennial activities, said Natchez’s 300th birthday will come and go whether folks commemorate it or not.

But tricentennial organizers intend not to let 2016 sneak up on them. The mission of the steering committee is to unify the community and create new business opportunities by commemorating the past, celebrating the present and defining the future.

Combs is just in the initial stages of creating a steering committee for the tricentinnial. She said so far, organizations and individuals have jumped at the chance to be a part of something that she thinks will stimulate commerce and educate the community on Natchez’s rich heritage.

“For this to be a thriving, successful plan it’s going to take all of us,” Combs said.

Combs said the Mississippi Development Authority and the Mississippi Department of Transportation have expressed interest in being involved in planning and execution of events.

“This is not just about Natchez celebrating 300 years,” Combs said. “This is an opportunity for a celebration on an international scale.”

Combs said Natchez has been under French, Spanish and English flags, and has retained the influence of Native American, Jewish and African American culture.

“Today we have a combination of multiple histories,” Combs said. “This is a chance to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

Natchez businesswoman Margaret Perkins said the tricentennial does not belong to anyone or any one group.

“It belongs to all of us,” Perkins said.

The Mississippi River is the star of the tricentennial. Combs said the river has changed course in every part of the state except Natchez.

“The river is such an enormous part of our economy, development and connectedness,” Combs said. “It should be celebrated.”

Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said 1716 is when Fort Rosalie was built that established the city.

Combs said the tricentennial is more than just a birthday party.

“Natchez knows how to have a party,” Combs said. “We are known for it. But the tricentennial is about working towards a common goal in the best interest of the community. I envision a year-long plus (commemoration).”

Combs said the educational opportunities surrounding the tricentennial are endless.

“I can see schools and colleges designing special curriculum to culminate in 2016 events,” Combs said.

Combs said one reason the tricentennial is planned so far in advance is because development funds have to be raised to pull off the size and scope of the plans.

“We are planning five and a half years out because this is an opportunity we will never have again,” Combs said. “We are aggressively looking at what we can do.”

Combs said she hopes the tricentennial will spin off legacy events (events that are created specifically for the 300th birthday) to continue commemorating the past and erode division in the community.

When it comes to planning legacy events, Combs said planners are only limited by their imagination.

In the near future, local artists will be solicited to participate in a logo design contest to give the tricentennial a recognizable brand. Combs said she is also seeking someone to manage a website.

“It will take more than me to pull this off,” Combs said. “Probably 25 people have offered tremendous support. It is unprecedented what we can do.”

Combs encouraged anyone interested in getting involved with planning to contact her by e-mail, natchez300@gmail.com.

“We are in the unique position to do something really fabulous,” Combs said.

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