By Marty Russell

Daily Journal

Last winter, an Illinois couple parked their recreational vehicle near the Natchez Trace Parkway’s Visitors Center and went to work as volunteers for the parkway, opting to spend the entire season in the relatively warm confines of a Mississippi winter.

Now the parkway is looking for a few more volunteers, preferably closer to home.

“We’re looking for anyone from the local community willing to give some of their time,” said Cheri Anderson, a parkway spokeswoman. “We’re just trying to see if there is any local interest.”

Volunteers have always been utilized in national parks, and currently about 75,000 are part of the Volunteers in Parks (VIP) program. However, until the Illinois couple showed up last year, the Natchez Trace has relied on its own staff to man the 445-mile-long parkway’s Visitors Center in Tupelo.

Anderson said the parkway now wants to explore whether there is enough local interest to have volunteers staffing the Visitors Center on a regular basis.

“We’re really trying to model it after Kosciusko,” she said. “The chamber of commerce has a very active program there with members of the older community.”

Volunteers in Kosciusko help man the local museum located on the Trace.

But Anderson said she wasn’t looking just for senior citizens.

“I know our hours of 8 (a.m.) until 5 (p.m.) are the normal, average working hours for most people except for older folks, but we’re looking for anyone who wants to volunteer,” she said.

Anderson said the work would involve all aspects of the Visitors Center’s operations.

“They would be helping us with visitor information and greetings,” she said. “There would also be some light book sales, so they would have to learn to work the cash register, and just answering the phone.”

Anyone interested in volunteering should contact Anderson at 680-4025.

Anderson said she knows she has two volunteers already lined up to work this winter. The couple from Illinois apparently liked the volunteer work at the Trace enough to indicate they will be back this winter.

“It’s not unusual to have volunteers rotate throughout the park system and stay in different places,” Anderson said.

Last year, the Natchez Trace Parkway had about 13 million visitors, placing it among the top five most-visited national parks in the country.

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