/‘If the government shuts down, we’ll do it again’ Vicksburg military park kept open, and 19,000 visitors showed up

‘If the government shuts down, we’ll do it again’ Vicksburg military park kept open, and 19,000 visitors showed up

The Vicksburg National Military Park managed to keep its forts operational during the partial government shutdown. This was thanks to Friends of VNMP and the City of Vicksburg. Friends of VNMP provided new figures last week that showed a slight decline in visitor numbers. Bess Averett (Executive Director of Friends of VNMP), stated that the park was “clearly the centerpiece of tourism in Vicksburg.” She raised more than $50,000 to keep it operating. “The local economy depends on tourism in Vicksburg,” said Bess Averett, Executive Director of Friends of VNMP. Without their support, Vicksburg National Military Park would have been closed during the federal impasse. Averett stated that there was concern that, despite the marketing efforts of her group, people would mistakenly assume that the park had been closed. Surprisingly, more than 19,000 people visited the park during the closure, a slight drop from the 21,000 visits in the same time last year. It hosts approximately a half-million visitors annually and is Mississippi’s most popular tourist attraction. Vicksburg relies heavily on tourism revenue to support its business and the riverboat business. According to the Mississippi Development Authority $22 million in state taxes and 19 percent of Warren County jobs can be directly attributed to Vicksburg’s tourism industry. Friends of VNMP is a group that supports the park through advocacy and event-planning. They first saw the threat of closing the park last February and raised $2,000 per day to keep it open for five more days without federal funding. Averett stated that they couldn’t have predicted how long Washington D.C.’s shutdown would last. Friends of VNMP had run out of money by the 12th day of the shutdown and the Military Park needed a new source of funding. Mayor George Flaggs Jr., and the City of Vicksburg, agreed to match the non profit’s fundraising efforts, contributing $22,522 total to keep the park afloat. Flaggs stated that it was important to help them as the park is an integral part of our business. Flaggs stated that it was impossible to lose the revenue generated by the park’s visitors who spend their money at convenience stores and get gas in Vicksburg. Averett also pointed out that without funding, the park would not be secure. “The park is a holy place, and there have been instances of vandalism in the past, when we have had to go relic hunting. She said that it really puts us in a vulnerable position. During the 35-day closure, park rangers set up dry-erase boards so that people could write the places they had traveled. Every day, the board would be filled with people from every country in the world. Averett stated that we had people from South Africa and Spain, England, Germany. It’s very impactful to see these names every day when I go into the visitor’s centre. These are people who can’t just return next week when the government reopens. So it was great to have that daily reminder that we had done some good. Mayor Flaggs assured that the park would remain open if the federal shutdown resumes. Flaggs stated that Vicksburg could have felt the consequences of the park’s closing during the 2013 shutdown. He stated that while it had a negative effect, Vicksburg was able to take over the situation. “If the government shuts down again, we’ll do so again.” It’s vital to the community’s economic health. It is more sensible to pay $2,000 per day than to lose the momentum of our tourist.” States were faced with similar dilemmas in 2013 when the National Park Service closed their tourist destinations. New York and Arizona each spent $2,000 from their state budgets to keep the Grand Canyon National Park open.