Wicker Highlights Mississippi’s National Heritage Areas

Gulf Coast Unveils Nature-Based Tourism Plan

October 10, 2016

There are only 49 National Heritage Areas in the United States, and three of them are in Mississippi. National Heritage Areas are approved by Congress and given advice and assistance by the National Park Service, but they are not managed or owned by the federal government. Instead, conservation, preservation, tourism, and education efforts are driven by local communities and state governments, as well as nonprofit and business partners. These areas can help generate millions of dollars in local revenue, boost job growth, and support small businesses in our communities.

Wildlife Recreation Creates Thousands of Jobs

On October 6, I joined state and local officials in Biloxi for the launch of a new website and nature-based tourism plan for the Mississippi Gulf Coast National Heritage Area. Congress designated the counties of Pearl River, Stone, George, Hancock, Harrison, and Jackson as a National Heritage Area in late 2004, just months before Hurricane Katrina devastated our state.

A major part of our recovery from Katrina has been rebuilding infrastructure and restoring economic vitality. But it has also involved preserving the history, culture, and nature that identify and distinguish this special part of our nation. The Gulf Coast National Heritage Area is helping to preserve our stories and to create new ones through ecotourism.

According to 2013 numbers, our state’s wildlife recreation and tourism annually brings in almost $2 billion in spending and supports thousands of jobs. As a National Heritage Area, the Gulf Coast can draw even more attention to its vibrant natural habitats and activities, encouraging people to visit from across the country and the world. Most importantly, Mississippians and state agencies like the Department of Marine Resources – not Washington bureaucrats – are making decisions about how the area is promoted and preserved.

Congress Recognizes Mississippi Hills, Delta

I supported the legislation to make the Gulf Coast a National Heritage Area in 2004, and I have worked in the Senate to bring the same distinction to other parts of our state – specifically, the Mississippi Hills and the Delta. These two regions of our state – including 30 counties and 18 counties, respectively – were each named a National Heritage Area in 2009.

It goes without saying that our state is full of history and culture. The fact that more than half of our counties are in a National Heritage Area is a testament to what Mississippi can offer the millions of people who choose to visit every year. In the Mississippi Hills, visitors can explore the former stomping grounds of Elvis, William Faulkner, and U.S. Senator Hiram Revels or historic institutions like Rust College, one of the oldest historically black colleges in the country.

In the Delta, visitors can travel the Blues Trail and Freedom Trail that cross the rich alluvial plain of the Mississippi River, which has become a wellspring of creative artwork and culinary excellence. Along our Gulf Coast, an abundance of scenic landscapes and unspoiled nature is available for visitors to sightsee and discover, from Crosby Arboretum in Picayune to the Pascagoula River, the last major unimpeded river in the contiguous United States.

A new video for the Gulf Coast National Heritage Area, voiced by Walt Grayson, says it best: “Come discover life on the water.” Given Mississippi’s many corners of diverse traditions, cultures, and scenery, that message could be: “Come discover life in our state.”