Thursday, June 9, 2005

Groups look to establish vision, priorities

Staff Writer

Holly Springs City Beautiful Commission met with community builders Thursday to seek a common banner to get behind.

A group of 19 met at Fitch Farms/Galena Plantation for a country breakfast and planning.

Some want an umbrella organization that would help with fund raising efforts for projects in the areas of historic preservation, tourism, beautification and advertising of community resources.

Joan Fitch said Holly Springs needs a comprehensive plan for economic and community development and an umbrella organization that helps identify and set priorities for community improvement.

Appearances (beautification) are important, Fitch said.

“A picture is worth a thousand words and first impressions are lasting,” she said.

She referred to herself as a cheerleader for City Beautiful. Fitch said she would like to hold a fundraiser at Galena Plantation for projects such as beautification but was told there is no non-profit available to handle the funds.

Fitch welcomed David Person, a newcomer to Holly Springs with old family ties.

“He’s already restored one home and has done a lot of good already on another (Fleur-de-Lys Plantation),” Fitch said.

Introducing the board of City Beautiful (Lisa Cole, Beverly Brown, Barbara Lanphere, Tim Bisenius, Tim Liddy and Carol Hurdle), Fitch said the board of directors “has not gotten the recognition they should have for all the work they have done.”

Lisa Cole introduced Lois Swanee, curator of the Historical Museum and referred to her as “the first lady of Holly Springs.”

Fitch recognized Sheriff Kenny Dickerson for his efforts in cleaning the roadsides.

“We are real proud of our sheriff - they help pick up our roads,” Fitch said.

Dickerson said his department has gathered a million bags of trash on roadways since the Mississippi Inmate program was established in Marshall County and 600 bags were collected already for the week.

“Whatever we can do to help support making the city and county look better, we will be glad to do it,” Dickerson said.

Brown said the sheriff has always responded when called upon to help with city beautification needs.

Fitch said the inmate program has made a difference that is noticeable in the appearance of Marshall County roads especially when crossing into a neighboring county.

Madge Lindsay, executive director of Mississippi Audubon, said educators at Strawberry Plains are teaching children about not littering.

Cole reported that City Beautiful is installing a welcome sign at the south entrance to the city soon. She applauded the many cash donations for the sign, the donation of the site by the VFW Post and the design by Chelius Carter.

The sign will read “Welcome to Holly Springs, Established in 1835,” Carter said.

Mike Lynn asked if banners could be attached to the sign advertising upcoming events.

Alderman Tim Liddy said banners are not allowed by Mississippi Department of Transportation.

He announced a public meeting at town hall Thursday, June 16 at 6 p.m. called by Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance.

“They are trying to organize a heritage trail for Northeast Mississippi and a common theme to market the whole area for tourism,” Liddy said.

Mike Lynn explained that the Mississippi tourism department wants to develop tourism for various sections of the state - the Delta, the North, Central and South.

Oxford, Holly Springs and Corinth are participating collectively to promote heritage tourism, he said.

Tennessee and North Mississippi are looking to establish a Civil War Trail, Cole said.

Liddy added that common working themes can be drawn from African American history, Civil War history, Southern Art and Literature, Southern music and architecture.

George Gwin discussed grants.

“My thoughts are there are a number of places to go to apply to for grants,” he said. “I discovered last year a number of these sources want to pay attention to the end results - job creation or infrastructure.”

He said the Delta Regional Authority (DRA), headquartered in Clarksdale, helps look for sources of funding. A $90,000 grant to do repairs at Montrose came through DRA, he said.

Liddy said if the City of Holly Springs wants to apply for grants, matching funds have to be in the budget and that grant projects for city beautification could be put in the budget.

Carter said a non-profit, umbrella organization has been discussed but interests from diverse groups like the city, City Beautiful, Historic Preservation, Tourism and the garden clubs need to be included.

There is “zero coordination” between these groups, he said.

“There needs to be some hinge point to get representation from all these organizations so projects can be prioritized,” Carter said.

“The Chalmers Institute project keeps coming up,” he said.

“The main thing that is needed for Holly Springs,” Carter said, “is a master plan for tourism of Holly Springs where City Beautiful can come in to fill in the gaps for preservation.”

Gwin stressed that a core identity should be sought and a mission defined to focus the energies of diverse groups that have a common goal. He called for individuals to identify eight strengths/weaknesses and eight opportunities/threats. A listing could be used as a compass.

“There are so many ideas it’s almost overwhelming and so many things that need to be done it’s almost overwhelming,” he said.

Mike Lynn, chairman of the board of directors of the Tourism Bureau, said the board has been thinking about forming a tourism development council.

“It is an idea I have had for some time and the council would look at broad needs such as the construction of a welcome center,” he said.

Swanee thought that the city should be noted for something unique. She suggested the city and county put on a five-day Christmas Tour after Christmas.

“It would fill the hotels and cafes if we could have one great concept like “Christmas in Holly Springs,” she said. Swanee said Holly Springs needs something to be recognized for nationally.

“But it takes a lot of doing,” she said. “It will be known nationally, not just in Memphis.”

Brown complimented the interest shown in the topics and issues discussed.

“I think each one here is to be commended,” she said. “Everybody has done something great for Holly Springs. We need to support each other like Joan (Fitch) is saying. Maybe it (beautification and cleanup) is being taken for granted by a lot of people.”

“One thing is missing,” said Gwin. “We don’t know who we are (what we want to be known for). How do you describe Holly Springs to a stranger? How do you answer that question?”

Lindsay offered suggestions.

“We are doing a Master Plan,” she said. “Whatever we do, it must be authentic. It can’t be a Hawaii.

“Beautification is subjective. We’ve got gardens, too. It is an attraction. We don’t want to wreck the quality of life. It is not jobs for jobs (sake). At Strawberry Plains we are trying to fulfill the wishes of the Finleys to keep what’s there and help heal the past.

“And the name Holly Springs - there are two springs in Holly Springs that are being wrecked. We’ve got to incorporate the whole feeling - why those settlers came here.

“It needs to be authentic. Some people are putting in exotic plants and our plants are natural. I am very much for this and I want to come back to the next meeting.”

“If you can just define what is under that umbrella, what is going to be the mission in a box of what we want to do,” Gwin said in summary.

Swanee reminded that jobs are also important.

“Industry is the oil that keeps it going,” she said.

“It is not a mission to improve all walks of life, but rather to move forward on what we’ve got,” said another.

Some projects that are already providing an identity for Holly Springs include Strawberry Plains Audubon, which is building an image based on nature experience, education, natural flora and hummingbirds. Scholarly studies, conservation of the environment, preservation of history, homes and land left by two sisters, Margaret Shackleford and Ruth Finley, are foundation stones for Audubon’s role as a major player in Holly Springs’ budding tourism industry.

Walter Place Estates, Cottages and Gardens provides alternate nature-based experiences - exotic plants and water features - that tap into the natural history of Holly Springs. Walter Place Estates also is linked with historic home preservation and the Pilgrimage and could become a major attraction in the City of Holly Springs.

A third element, Fitch Farms/Galena Plantation, again provides a nature-based experience linked to farming (cattle, horses, and gardens), hunting (quail, turkey, and deer), Championship Field Trials, historic preservation (Nathan Bedford Forest Home) and Southern cuisine. The plantation has served as a location for several films.

In the City of Holly Springs, historic museums, historic colleges, and historic homes round out the mix.

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