By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Natchez Trace Parkway kicked off its 75th year Tuesday with a visit from the director of the National Park Service.
It’s only the second time a current director has visited the parkway, according to Dale Wilkerson, acting superintendent of the Natchez Trace. The last visit was in 1962.
Jon Jarvis has been director of the NPS since November 2009. It’s the highest rank in the agency. But Tuesday when he met with Trace employees, he reminded them he spent years working in the field.
“I’m a career guy in a political job,” he said. “As a career guy, I know what you do and I have incredible appreciation for it. I know how hard you work.”
The parkway, which spans from Natchez to Nashville, has about 180 employees. Employees within 50 miles of Tupelo were encouraged to attend and meet Jarvis.
Jarvis focused his presentation on the NPS’ 100th anniversary in 2016. The agency is making partnerships and is looking for ways to create buzz.
One of the “coolest” partnerships so far, Jarvis said, is with the Tournament of Roses. In 2016, the Rose Parade’s theme will be the National Park Service, with the 100-plus floats representing a park or something about the agency.
He’s also working to make sure the NPS remains relevant to the American public.
“It’s a big, crazy, competitive world out there,” he said. “I worry about the next 100 years.”
He said the NPS is researching how social media, sports stars and Hollywood actors can be incorporated to help promote the agency.
“We are the largest informal education organization in the United States,” he said. “We have, in my mind, a deep societal responsibility to present these places – not only the physical place, but the emotions behind it. We have the responsibility to remind people what it means to be an American.”
The Natchez Trace Parkway fits the bill, Jarvis said Tuesday, calling it a “slice of history.”
He also said he was doing informal inspections of the Trace as he was en route to Tupelo, Houston and then Starkville. He had good reports regarding maintenance, signs, the welcome center and the wayside exhibits. It was music to Wilkerson’s ears.
“Any time we get a chance to hear from a director is good,” he said. “It’s special for us.”
Added Nathan Oliver, who works in maintenance out of Cherokee, Ala., “It’s nice to know stuff you don’t normally hear.”