A half-decade of ceaseless work by a largely volunteer alliance of Northeast Mississippians culminates today with ceremonial announcement of the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area, a congressional designation tied to culture, history and development and recently signed into law by President Obama.
The 10 a.m. festivities at the BancorpSouth Conference Center in Tupelo feature Sen. Roger Wicker as keynote speaker. Wicker, senior Sen. Thad Cochran, also a Republican, and 1st District U.S. Rep. Travis Childers, D-Booneville, all supported establishing the heritage area during the long congressional process, beginning during the George W. Bush administration.
Cochran introduced legislation to establish the heritage area, and a companion Delta Heritage Area, in 2007. Wicker, then the 1st District representative, was the key U.S. House backer.
The Hills Heritage Area is comprised of 30 counties, beginning at the Alabama line and stretching westward to Interstate 55, and at the Tennessee line extending southward to Mississippi Highway 14, an east-west road.
The project has been under development since 2004, with due credit to project coordinator Kent Bain, an Alcorn countian who was the effort’s spearhead and chief publicist.
The National Park Service defines a national heritage area as “a region designated by the United States Congress where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally-distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.”
Forty other heritage areas have been designated and operate across the U.S., in every region, including the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area.
Dozens of institutions and private-sector backers are recognized as founding partners.
It is hoped that with increased interest in heritage areas, funding will be set at $1 million per year (with a required 50/50 state and local annual match) capped at $10 million over 10 years.
Tourism development probably will become the most visible activity of the Hills alliance because of heightened public interest in the distinct cultural and architectural heritage of communities and regions.
The Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance fortunately begins operations as a national heritage area with a broadly based coalition of supporters, many themselves magnets for tourism and recreation development.