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Officials hope to attract more visitors, extend their stays with program reboot

mgcnha-horz-4c-2By LISA MONTI

The state’s six coastal counties were designated as the Mississippi Gulf Coast Natural Heritage Area in 2004 to attract visitors and encourage economic growth by promoting the region’s history, culture and natural resources.

Recently, officials announced the reboot of the program’s marketing efforts by un-veiling a new website, logo and video to attract more visitors and extend their stays.

‘We’ve worked hard to get to this point, and we are filled with the hope of great potential,” said Heritage Area director Rhonda Price, who coordinates the effort for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, which administers the program.

The three counties actually on the coast are Hancock, Harrison adn Jackson, Those on the next tier are Pearl River, Stone and George.

Communities, businesses, government agencies, non-profits and individuals have been working together through the Heritage Area to get the word out about the festivals, museums, historic homes and other tourism assets that draw people to the Coast.

The enabling legislation designated a total of $10 million in funding for the Heritage Area operation and grant program. Price said the goal is to make the program stand on its own without additional funding. “We will hopefully have put in enough mechanisms to be self-sustaining by creating economic opportunities for communities to tell their stories,” Price said.

Now in its second year of funding, the Heritage Area receives $300,000 annually from the National Park Service, which serves as technical adviser, and matching funds from the state’s Tideland Funds. The majority of the money is used to provide community grants.

“Last year we gave $200,000 to community grants and this year around $150,000,” Price said. Six were awarded last year and six more this year.

The 2016 grant recipients include the city of Ocean Springs, which received $12,000 to replace the historic flag plaques at Fort Maurepas Park and the Jackson County Board of Supervisors, which was granted $50,000 to repair the roof and chimney at the LaPointe-Krebs House, built in 1757 and the oldest building still standing in Mississippi.

Such investments help boost the visibility and viability of all of the Coast’s tourism attractions including museums, natural resources and cultural assets including festivals and the traditions of livelihoods from farming, to timber to making fishing nets.

“We let people know that they can come to the six counties and have fun, and then turn those moments into memories,” she said. The hope is that families will con-tinue to return, generation after generation.

By marketing the area as a NHA, the spotlight can shine on opportunities for tour-ists to experience activities such as biking, kayaking, boating down a river and picking blueberries.

“It’s also a way to build the economy and keep the nature tourism businesses in business.”

Price said the program also is helping Coast residents learn what the NHA designa-tion means to the community.

“Not a lot of people understand how significant it is to have the opportunity to tell your story and promote your culture and heritage all wrapped up in a majestic set-ting. We want to get the information out there about what it means to live in a NHA,” she said.

And for those residents who haven’t visited attractions such as the Crosby Arbore-tum in Picayune or the Charnley-Norwood House in Ocean Springs, Price hopes to encourage them to take a staycation and enjoy the tourist destinations close at hand. “It’s like the Dorothy mentality,” she said. “There’s no place like home.”

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About Lisa Monti

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