By Carlie Kollath/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Chickasaw Nation officially has partnered with the Natchez Trace Parkway to develop a heritage center in Tupelo.
The center will be at the current Chickasaw Village site on the parkway near the McCullough Boulevard exit. The goal is to build replicas of historical Chickasaw living quarters, among other interpretive exhibits both indoor and outdoor.
“It will make the site come alive,” said Chris Smith, a cultural resource specialist for the parkway. “We’ll be able to give the public a better look about being a Chickasaw in the 1700s.”
The Chickasaw Nation has an interpretive center in Sulphur, Okla. Parkway officials say they plan to use the Oklahoma center as a model of what could be built on a smaller scale in Tupelo.
Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation, added, “Our partnership with the Natchez Trace Parkway is part of our overarching commitment to expand the scope of knowledge of Chickasaw history, heritage and culture. Chickasaws will always have a strong emotional connection with the homelands. That is why it is so important to develop a tangible reminder of the history of Chickasaw people in this area.”
Cam Sholly, superintendent of the Natchez Trace Parkway, said the parkway has $1.1 million allocated to the planning, design and environmental phase.
Sholly said the project is in the preliminary stage but he hopes to see a 3,000- to 5,000-square-foot center, along with various indoor and outdoor exhibits. The upgraded site, he said, will be retooled to have bathrooms, water fountains, better parking and more visitor amenities.
The new center also will have interpretive information about the Blackland Prairie, which is a unique natural habitat that is home to more than 400 plant species, according to Lisa McInnis of the parkway.
The planning phase is expected to take about two years, Sholly said. The actual project is not funded, and Sholly said fundraising will be discussed during the planning phase.
A Natchez Trace “signature visitor attraction has been missing for the Tupelo area,” Sholly said. “I think this is going to be an incredible partnership and great for visitors and tourists. It will help solidify the Chickasaw story in Tupelo.”