Natchez, National Park Service advance Forks of the Road donation process

Published 12:09 am Friday, July 14, 2017


The Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez and the National Park Service Tuesday entered into an agreement advancing the historic Forks of the Road land donation process.

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The Natchez Board of Aldermen voted in May to give the NPS parcels of Forks of the Road, once the nation’s second-largest slave market site. The city agreed to donate the abandoned section of Washington Road west of Concord Avenue, the brick bridge structure over Spanish Bayou and approximately 2.5 acres more of land.

Tuesday’s agreement essentially moves the donation process along and lays out responsibilities of the city and NPS until the land is donated, Natchez National Historical Park Superintendent Kathleen Bond said.

Bond said the land acquisition process must go through the NPS Southeast Region Lands Office in Atlanta. The agreement requests Natchez city attorney Bob Latham to provide the office with the necessary paperwork to move forward with the process within three months.

“Primarily, what this agreement does is say, ‘OK, while that is happening, how are we going to do business together?” Bond said.

“The point of the agreement is to set terms such as: the city will continue to cut the grass until the land is donated. That just spells out those terms of details during this interim period.”

The actual language of the agreement states that the city will “maintain customary levels of grounds-keeping at the Forks of the Road until the end of the land donation process.” Bond said the NPS would assume those responsibilities immediately after acquiring the land.

Another tenet of the agreement is for the city to direct the Public Works Department to clear kudzu from the brick bridge structure within three months so the park service can study and determine the bridge’s age and treatment recommendations to help preserve the structure.

Bond called the bridge an important structure due to its role in history. For slaves that were marched into the city through the Natchez Trace, one of the final steps of their voyage to the Forks was walking down Old Washington Road and crossing a bridge over Spanish Bayou.

Bond said the historic structure report could determine whether the current bridge is the actual structure slaves crossed, which remains unclear.

The agreement also states that the city will donate “all existing exhibit panels on city-owned lands at the Forks of the Road,” a stipulation that had not been previously agreed upon.

Once the land is donated, Bond said the NPS would collaborate with The Friends of the Forks of the Road Society, who have worked for years to preserve the area.

“The fact that we even know Forks of the Road exists is because of their efforts,” Bond said.

“They are the local stakeholders for that site, and they’re very passionate about it.”

Bond said she hopes the donation process will be completed between three and six months from now.