Park service addresses concerns about Emerald Mound

Published 11:41 pm Wednesday, October 25, 2017


NATCHEZ — Recent visitors to Emerald Mound may have noticed overgrown grass, an eroding staircase and a road closed sign at the bottom of the landmark.

Located near milepost 10.3 on the Natchez Trace, Emerald Mound is one of the largest prehistoric ceremonial mounds in North America. The mound site is under the management of the Natchez Trace Parkway.

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Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez,  recently visited the mounds and said he noticed some erosion and overgrown grass on the steps of the upper mound.

“Hopefully, it’ll get back to where it looks pretty good,” Dearing said. “You could tell it’d been cut about six weeks before.”

Mary Risser, Superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, said a combination of weather and personnel shortages over the summer has caused the mounds to look overgrown and in bad shape.

“This summer has been a perfect storm for us,” Risser said. “We have not been able to work with a full staff all summer.”

Risser said the same people who are in charge of the upkeep of Emerald Mounds also take care of miles one through eight of the Natchez Trace.

Along with a shortage of workforce and tractor operators, persistent rainfall has prevented the park service from mowing the grass.

“With the rain we have not be able to get tractors on the steep slopes safely,” she said. “If the grass is a tiny bit wet, the tractors have no traction and will slide down the steep slope.”

Risser said she would not allow mowers out on the mounds because she did not want to, “jeapordize our employees’ health and safety.”

The road closed sign at the foot of the steps on the western upper mound, Risser said, is in place because of a recent decision to remove the staircase on that summit.

“It is an extremely sacred place for the American Indians,” Risser said. “We made the decision — because it is so sacred — to take away the steps.”

The work to remove the steps will happen in the next couple of months — depending on the work loads, she said.

Risser will have an archeologist on site to make sure nothing is disturbed during the deconstruction of the staircase, since the entire site is a National Historic Landmark.

Though Risser said visitors will not be barred from climbing to the top of the western mound, which is also the highest, she said a sign will be placed at the foot of the summit requesting that patrons treat the mound with care.

“We can encourage people to remember the mound is a sacred site to American Indians and to respect that,” Risser said. “It’s a wonderful experience for families, but we’re trying to be more respectful.”