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Vicksburg National Military Park implementing a new grounds management operations plan



vicksburg military park cannon
(photo by David Day)
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The National Park Service (NPS) is implementing changes to mowing operations at Vicksburg National Military Park. Beginning in Spring 2022, the park will be managing mowing and vegetation more sustainably through a combination of prioritizing mowing locations based on schedules, implementing more controlled burns and propagating pollinator native plant meadows.

Currently the park mows and maintains approximately 500 acres of vegetation throughout the main park and nearby satellite units, including the 16-mile park tour road, Clay Street Visitor Center, USS Cairo Museum, and National Cemetery landscapes. Additionally, the NPS maintains outlying satellite sites in the local area including Navy Circle, Louisiana Circle, South Fort, Grant’s Canal, and Pemberton Headquarters. The park also mows and maintains the grounds around Coker House in the Champion Hill Battlefield unit near Edwards. Since 2019, the park has spent $200,000 to $350,000 annually (approximately 9% of the total park budget) in mowing contracts, NPS staff salaries/benefits, fuel, and equipment to maintain the grounds. Increasing contract costs and fuel costs do not make previous mowing operations a sustainable solution long-term.

New mowing operations going into effect are more environmentally sustainable, fiscally responsible, and address safety concerns.

“This new operations plan provides for a balance of maintaining a quality visitor experience, fiscal responsibly, a safety-first approach, and a commitment to supporting this honor ground as place of natural beauty” stated Superintendent Carrie Mardorf. “Transitioning to this new mowing plan is new for all of us, and there are going to be bumps along the way. We ask for the public’s patience as we figure out a system that works for all of us.”

Since 2015, the park has struggled to maintain mowing and grounds operations due to lack of seasonal and permanent staffing and the rapid growing season with Mississippi’s warm, humid climate. Additionally, both contractors and park staff mowing steep ravines, ridges, and slopes have rolled equipment, resulting in several serious safety concerns. There have been recent fatalities of staff conducting mowing operations at other national park sites.

Now the park is taking a more integrated approach to maintain the park landscape more sustainably, making decisions about priority areas to lessen the frequency and intensity of mowing within the landscape. Park staff are actively working to convert turfgrass into native meadows, so that prescribed fire can be used to maintain more areas. Large open grassy areas within South Loop, near the Illinois Monument and Shirley House, and along Graveyard Road were cleared of woody vegetation in 2012. A management plan for these areas called for prescribed burns to maintain these open areas. Graveyard Road and Fort Hill have been maintained as open fields through a cyclic prescribed fire regime since that time. The NPS will be expanding the use of prescribed burns to include the South Loop and areas near the Illinois Monument.

The NPS is also exploring managing areas to support the growth of plants to sustain pollinator populations including bees and butterflies, especially since Monarch Butterflies are currently being reviewed for an endangered species designation by United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Pollinator meadows and native grasses will help support pollinator populations which supports local agriculture and migratory bird and bat populations. Pollinator meadows will also support the growth of seasonal wildflowers which will provide a vibrant palette of color throughout the park and provide an additional draw for visitors.

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