Natchez Trace Threatened by Budget Fight | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Natchez Trace Threatened by Budget Fight

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Visitors are being turned away from the Civil War battlefield in Vicksburg and seven other National Park Service sites in Mississippi because of the partial shutdown of the federal government.

The Vicksburg National Military Park's chief of operations, Rick Martin, said Wednesday that he has had to tell tourists and locals alike that they can't walk, run or drive through the 1,800-acre site since it temporarily closed on Tuesday. The hilly expanse, with cannons and monuments to soldiers who fought in the 1863 Vicksburg campaign, is a popular spot for early morning or late afternoon exercisers.

"Sometimes, when you have a national park in your backyard, you don't realize that it's federal. It's their park," Martin said. "I saw the look on one man's face yesterday. He was incredulous that the park was closed."

The National Park Service says in a news release that all 401 of its sites across the country are temporarily closed because of the shutdown.

The other National Park Service sites in Mississippi are Brices Cross Roads National Battlefield near Baldwyn, Grand Gulf Military Monument Park near Port Gibson, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Ocean Springs, Natchez National Historic Park, the Natchez Trace Parkway and Tupelo National Battlefield.

The parkway, commonly called the Trace, remains open for traffic and recreation, but its visitor centers and restrooms are closed. The 444-mile road runs from Natchez, in the southwestern part of Mississippi, up to Tishomingo County in the northeast, and on to Nashville, Tenn. Federal officials have said 13.8 million people use the Trace for commuting, walking, running, bicycling or sightseeing.

The National Park Service says anyone in overnight campgrounds or lodges on its sites are being told to leave by 5 p.m. CDT Thursday.

James Gray, a 38-year-old Jackson resident, said he runs four miles a day along the Trace in Ridgeland. It's his Monday-through-Friday morning routine before starting his shift as a press operator at the Nissan manufacturing plant near Canton.

"It would be devastating if they closed it down," Gray said Wednesday after running along the Trace. "It's well kept, maintained. I like the peace that it gives you, the solitude."

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