BY EMILY LE COZ
TUPELO – The completion of the 444-mile road between Natchez and Nashville wasn't the end, but the beginning of a new era for the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Advocates of the Trace want nearly $100 million to enhance the park with a series of 12 projects aimed at telling the story of the historical trail. They include construction of a Meriwether Lewis Visitor Contact Station, a Chickasaw Museum and Cultural Center and a Choctaw Museum and Visitor Center.
Other projects involve renovating and creating more access to cultural sites along the Trace, building multi-use trails near Jackson and Natchez and constructing a new administration building for rangers and fire staff.
“The only thing that was done until now was the roadway was completed, and now activities and events and outstanding development of historical facilities along (the) Trace is just beginning,” said Harry Martin, president of the Natchez Trace Association, a group of politically influential supporters of the parkway in its three states of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.
“It's the beginning of a new era of development,” said Martin, the former president and CEO of Tupelo's Community Development Foundation, which also supports the parkway.
Martin's group will launch a public awareness campaign in September to educate communities along the Trace of the park's significance. Group members then will begin actively lobbying congressional leaders in their states to secure funding for the projects.
They will also seek money for an annual budget increase of $4.45 million and an additional one-time sum of $1.84 million for immediate needs.
Those funds will cover the extra expense of maintaining, operating and patrolling the 160 additional miles of parkway that have been added since 1980. They also will allow upkeep of pre-1980 roads and facilities that are deteriorating from age.
If Congress appropriates money for the Trace, it will go through the National Park Service, which directly oversees and funds the parkway as it does with all of the country's national parks.
“We're a unit of the Park Service just like Yellowstone,” said D. Craig Stubblefield, the parkway's chief of resource management. As such, “we cannot solicit Congress ourselves.”
Instead, Stubblefield and other Trace officials communicate their needs to the Association, which then does the soliciting on their behalf. It's a system that has worked in the past as evidenced by the last year's completion of the roadway.
“Without the Association, that would not have been done,” Martin said.
Besides securing money for immediate needs, Stubblefield has no preference on how or what Congress decides to fund first. The 12 projects – outlined in a PowerPoint presentation for Association members and politicians – are equally important to the Trace, he said.
Martin, though, has a personal preference for the Meriwether Lewis project. It involves a $210,000 rehabilitation of the monument and grave site and construction of a $2.91 million visitor contact station on the grounds.
“In Tennessee, it's one of the most outstanding things, and it's gaining national attention right now after last year's Lewis and Clark anniversary,” Martin said, referring to the bicentennial of the explorers' expedition.
But even Martin admitted that no one project takes precedence over another. “There is not an unimportant part about that list.”
Trace funding requests
Needs Cost (M is million)
Annual maintenance and operations $4.45M
Immediate patrolling, maintenance and operations $1.84M
Plan for a Northern Terminus Visitors Center $1.7M
Plan preservation of The Gordon House N/A
Plan and build Meriwether Lewis Visitor Contact Station
Operate Colbert Ferry Visitor Contact Station $250,000
Plan and build new Admin/Headquarters building $12.75M
Plan and build Chickasaw Museum and Cultural Center $8.43M
Plan and build Choctaw Museum and Visitor Center $8.43M
Plan and build multi-use trail in Jackson and Natchez $55M
Build access road to Port Gibson Battlefield $5.19M
Survey and enhance the Dillon Plantation $1.05M
Build access road and parking for Emerald Mound
Determine need for additional projects $100,000
Source: Natchez Trace Parkway