OUR OPINION: Natchez Trace Parkway creates tourism impact

Mississippians who think of the Natchez Trace Parkway only as another paved road frequently traveled for convenience should reconsider in light of the National Park Service’s economic impact report for 2012, showing 5.6 million visitors (local, regional and national) and a $126 million boost for the state’s economy directly related to the national park.

Information from 2013 showed even more visitors last year – 6.01 million.

The Trace, as the 444-mile highway from Natchez to Nashville is usually known, brings thousands of visitors into Mississippi who spend time and money along the route.

The impact includes thousands of nights of lodging in hotels, motels and bed-and-breakfast inns, plus restaurant meals and grocery shopping for bicycle tourists and campers.

The park study’s economists in Fort Collins, Colo., calculate that 27.7 percent of the non-local tourists on the Trace spend a night in Mississippi.

In fact, about half the total spending has been for lodging and meals.

This spending supported more than 1,550 jobs on the Trace in Mississippi, and the parkway itself has 160 employees along its 444-mile route.

The report nationwide shows $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million national park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationwide, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, with a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.

Scores of events, plus the natural habitats along the parkway, draw the visitors from across the nation and world.

For example, on April 12 the Natchez Trace’s importance immediately before and during the War of 1812 (the war’s bicentennial extends through 2014) will be the focus of an event at Colbert’s Ferry on the Tennessee River. Principal Chief of the Piqua Shawnee Tribe Gary Hunt will portray the famed Chief Tecumseh and deliver the speech that sent fear through western American settlements in 1811 and 1812. Tecumseh’s visit to the southern tribes influenced Red Stick Creeks to join his effort and attack settlers, leading to reprisals from American militia and adding to American fever to go to war in 1812. The event, as are most heritage celebrations along the Trace, is free.

Visits to the Natchez Trace place it in the top tier of national parks.

The question moving forward is what more communities in Northeast Mississippi might do to capture additional Trace tourism for their economies.

(Visit the website www.natcheztrace.org for more event and related information)