Thursday, July 7, 2005

Heritage trail concept draws interest

Staff Writer

Local interest is growing in heritage tourism as attested by a crowd of 30 who attended a second community meeting at Holly Springs City Hall Thursday, June 16.

Nashville planning consultant Phil Walker presented the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance concept plan and discussed the potential economic impact.

The concept plan completed a year ago includes four major themes – Civil War trails, music, literature and African American history. Tours can be built around minor themes that can be developed for the region, including religious buildings, town squares, cemeteries, railroad tours, arts and crafts, food, agriculture, American Indian culture, and schools for women, he said.

A recently constructed Civil War Interpretive Center in Corinth adds a leg to the Shiloh Battlefield tour, for example. A Faulkner Trail tour is being developed in Oxford. The music trail will connect Nashville to Mississippi towns like Tupelo (birthplace of Elvis), Meridian, New Orleans (jazz) and back up Highway 61 (Delta Blues) to Memphis (Beale Street Blues).

Partnering with other groups in the region is a key to a successful tour, Walker said.

He said it is better for a community to promote a handful of sites than “a bunch of mediocre ones where people come with high expectations and get let down.”

“There is a huge demand for authenticity,” Walker said.

He cited Strawberry Plains Audubon in Holly Springs as providing strong, authentic themes.

Walker said a team approach is necessary for the functioning of a successful heritage area.

The economic payoffs are not easy to project, he said, but getting visitors to spend the night greatly enhances the returns in numbers of new jobs, and hotel, restaurant and bar receipts, he said.

Increased spending on preservation of sites and museums adds jobs locally and enhances the tourist business.

“It takes hard work and a collective will,” Walker said, to build a tourism industry locally and regionally.

For those coming late to the idea, he offered encouragement.

“It certainly is not too late to get involved in self-improvement of one’s own site or retail area,” he said.

After the meeting Mike Lynn commented on the regional approach.

“I think it is wonderful, something long overdue,” he said. “Tourism should be about an area, not a single community.”

Ken P’Pool, director of Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said his agency is amazed at the work Kent Bain has done with the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area Alliance.

“He has put in a lot of volunteer time and has a wonderful vision for something that can both culturally and economically benefit Northeast Mississippi,” he said.

Brenda West with the University of Mississippi office of community relations also is a proponent of the partnership approach to developing heritage trails.

“We are working with the Alliance group, offering support for this concept,” she said.

Others in attendance at the meeting included Jorja Lynn, Lois Swanee, Jimmy Thomas, Del Stover, Leona Harris, Leontyne Thompson, Alfred and Jeannie Burton (Burton Sugar Farm, Michigan City), members of City Beautiful Beverly Brown, Lisa Cole and Barbara Lanphere, Bill Bowlin of Hickory Flat, Clencie Cotton (Rust College), Susan Jordan, Lisa Liddy, Connie Mason, Fannie and Paul Lampley, Mayor Andre’ DeBerry, Chelius Carter, Charlie McKellar, Jessie Edwards (Coldwater), Martha Fant, Russell Johnson, George and Laurie Gwin, Nancy Hutchens and Joey Miller.

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