By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – After years of development, the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance has a draft management plan to boost tourism in the region.
The Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area – one of 49 federally funded heritage areas across the country – comprises 30 counties bordered by Interstate 55 on the west, Highway 14 on the south, the Tennessee state line on the north and the Alabama state line on the east.
The management plan, presented Tuesday by Nashville-based Walker Collaborative, pulls together ideas garnered via focus groups and studies. It focuses on four primary themes: Native American heritage, African-American heritage, the Civil War and the arts (focusing on music and literature).
“We’ve been working on this for two and a half years with the management plan, and this is our first look at the full plan,” said Kent Bain, MHNHA project coordinator.
The marketing theme for MHNHA is “where Appalachia meets the Delta,” and seeks to tap into the growing popularity of cultural heritage tourism.
“The plan is grounded in economic realities,” said Phil Walker. “What will people come to see?”
Under the plan, two major Mississippi HIlls interpretive centers would be in Hernando and Tupelo.
Then, each theme would have its own interpretive centers, to serve as a springboard for other destinations related to the major theme.
Pontotoc would be the center for Native American heritage, Holly Springs would represent African-American heritage and Corinth would represent the Civil War. Tupelo would be the starting point for music, while Oxford would represent literature.
“You’ve already got great events tied to the themes, but there are other abundant opportunities,” Walker said. “Heritage tourism is not just seeing things, it’s also about experiencing the culture.”
Over the next few months, officials will seek public input about the management plan, then submit paperwork to the National Park Service.
Once approved, the plan will be posted on the NPS website and distributed to the relevant parties.
Walker hopes that will happen in the next few months.
From there, the real work begins – finding funding to implement and maintain the plan.
Federal and state funding are available, but not guaranteed, so the business plan includes fundraising, sponsorships, memberships and other activities.