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National Park Service responding to Vicksburg’s call for help in the Military Park

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African American Memorial in the Vicksburg National Military Park. (photo by Ron Cogswell, CC by 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

The federal government is responding to Vicksburg’s call for help to deal with the severe erosion issues in the National Military Park.

Erosion has forced the closure of nearly a third of the roads in the park, concentrated in the northern portion. Those roads provide access to the U.S.S. Cairo exhibit and also surround some of the oldest graves on the property.

The Vicksburg Daily News began reporting on the closures Feb. 12 when the park announced them, then recorded some of the devastation through photos and video on Feb. 20.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith visited the park the following day when she was in town for the naming of the Thad Cochran Center for Technology & Innovation. In an interview after the ceremony, Hyde-Smith said she would be speaking with U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt when she returned to Washington “to get things back as quickly as we can.”

“I assure you that we will be all over this to try and get things repaired,” Hyde-Smith said. “It is a sacred incident.”

Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. mentioned the Senator’s visit in a letter he sent to President Donald Trump on Feb. 25. He wrote that it would take millions to repair the damage.

“Much of the unexpected erosion damage is concentrated in the Vicksburg National Cemetery, the second-largest military cemetery in our nation,” Flaggs wrote. “Graves of our American heroes are in jeopardy—some of which are already covered in mudslides from the natural disaster. The area most at risk is an older section of the cemetery where unknown burials from the 1860s took place, and the United States Colored Troops are interred.”

All that attention to the park has reportedly moved the U.S. Department of Interior, which oversees the National Park Service, to take some action.

The NPS is assembling an incident of regional experts to assess the damage and draw up plans to solve the problems. The team will first work to stabilize and mitigate the damage already done.

In 2017, the amount of economic activity generated by the park was put at $39.1 million by the Pew Charitable Trust. The park’s maintenance backlog was $18.6 million, threatening  “the integrity of the battlefield, the remaining historic structures, and many of the monuments and memorials.”

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Repairs to the roads alone would take $5 million three years ago. That expense has surely increased with the enormous damage caused by erosion since then.

“Like many other national parks, Vicksburg lacks adequate funding to repave roads, parking lots, and road bridges,” the trust stated. “Weather exposure and high traffic have caused significant wear and tear.”

The Vicksburg National Military Park is one of the most visited attractions in Mississippi, drawing more than a half-million people to Vicksburg every year. Opened in 1899, it commemorates the pivotal Civil War Battle of Vicksburg and includes more than 1,300 historic markers and monuments.

The park also contains the Vicksburg National Cemetery, where 18,244 soldiers are buried, most of them Union troops that fought during the Civil War. The cemetery is second in size only to Arlington National Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C.

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