People are on the road again to visit one of the Southeast’s most prominent heritage tourism destinations, the City of Vicksburg.
“This spring we have seen a considerable increase in our tourism traffic, especially in the motor coach sector,” said Vicksburg Convention and Visitor’s Bureau executive director Bill Seratt. “We have placed television advertising in our key feeder markets and continue to enhance our website. Our visitation numbers for 2009 were up at key attractions. We expect this trend to continue in 2010.”
Seratt said the spring traffic has been phenomenal, and they expect the summer traffic to be even better. That doesn’t mean the state has seen the end of the economic downturn. But he feels things are definitely moving in the right direction. Research is indicating that recovery in tourism markets will continue through 2012.
Vicksburg is fortunate to have an abundance of attractions that draw guests to the city throughout the year. Special events such as the Old Court House Museum Flea Market, Riverfest, programs at the Vicksburg National Military Park and the Miss Mississippi pageant are particularly popular.
“The Mississippi Pageant held each year in July is literally the crown jewel of our summer events,” Seratt said. “The Miss Mississippi Pageant will be held at the Vicksburg Convention Center. Young women who have won a local pageant compete for the title of Miss Mississippi, with the winner going on to compete for the title of Miss America.”
The City of Vicksburg has also become a very popular location for state and regional sporting events. And Vicksburg’s offerings on the Mississippi Blues Trail continue to attract more and more attention.
One of Seratt’s favorite lesser-known attractions in Vicksburg is Margaret’s Grocery, which is located just north of the city on Washington Street (old Highway 61).
“It is one of my favorite places to visit,” Seratt said. “It is Americana roadside folk art at its best. It is amazing to me that any time I go to Margaret’s, there are always people stopping to take a look around and to photograph.”
The interest in the historical offerings of Vicksburg continues to grow. A number of stakeholders in the market are currently at work planning their sesquicentennial (150-year) observance of the Civil War. The special events programming will begin in the spring of 2011.
Visitation at the Vicksburg National Military Park has been climbing each year since taking a big hit after Hurricane Katrina. Before Hurricane Katrina, an estimated one million visitors a year came to the park. That dropped to 652,000 in 2006.
Park ranger Tim Kavanaugh said although Vicksburg wasn’t harmed much by Katrina, the hurricane took a major toll on north-south traffic and I-20 traffic through Atlanta to Vicksburg and beyond. People coming from the north and east to visit New Orleans or the Mississippi Gulf Coast often stop in Vicksburg to see the military park.
“With Katrina destroying so much of New Orleans, and Biloxi and Gulfport suffering so much damage, it pretty much took it offline for a couple of years,” Kavanaugh said. “Then with the sharp increase in the price of gasoline a couple years ago, we had a noticeable decline in visitation. Then the price of gas went down, but the economy tanked. Older retired people were still traveling, but family vacations were down.”
Currently, the park is seeing about 750,000 visitors per year.
Vicksburg is important to anyone interested in American history, and particularly the Civil War.
“The battles at Vicksburg and Gettysburg happened simultaneously,” Kavanaugh said. “Even though the Confederacy goes on, the high command knows that, barring a total Union disaster, there is no chance for a military victory in winning Southern independence. Because of the significance of the Vicksburg campaign being the turning point of the Civil War, it is a magnet for Civil War history buffs.”
Visitors run the complete gamut from people who have studied the Vicksburg campaign for years, to casual visitors who just happen to see the sign on the highway and decide to check it out.
The first recommended stop at the 1,800-acre park is the main Visitor’s Center that orients visitors to places to visit in the park. There are 16 miles of tour roads that go around the battlefield where 20,000 men were killed or wounded. There are a staggering 1,333 monuments.
“We have the most monumented park in the world,” Kavanaugh said. “We are talking about some spectacular artwork. For example, the Illinois Memorial is a scale model of the Pantheon in ancient Rome. In 1904, 23 percent of the budget of Illinois went for that. The memorial includes the names of 37,000 men from Illinois who came to fight at Vicksburg.”
One of the biggest attractions is the USS Cairo, a Union ironclad gunboat that sank after hitting mines (then known as torpedoes) in the Yazoo River Dec. 12, 1862. All 167 sailors got off safely, but the ship sank so fast little was salvaged — leaving what Kavanaugh calls “an almost perfect time capsule for Civil War naval life.”
Kavanagh said people remain fascinated by the history of the Civil War, the greatest trauma the country has ever experienced. Two percent of the population, 625,000 people, were killed, more than all the rest of the wars since put together.
“Many more were wounded or died because of disease,” he said. “It was an incredible trauma on the nation, specifically in the South where most of the battles took place. It took the South more than 100 years to recover to prior prosperity.”
For more information on the Vicksburg National Military Park, visit www.nps.gov/vick/index.htm. For more information about other attractions in the City of Vicksburg, visit www.vicksburgcvb.org/.
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