Cultural, heritage tourism important to small towns

By Sen. Lydia Chassaniol
District 14

The U.S. Highway 82 “Heritage Highway” can bring big benefits to the towns along the way from Columbus to Greenville.

The tourism industry generates more than $6 billion annually in Mississippi. While many of these dollars are spent in the larger venues, plenty of tourism capital is to be had in our smaller towns.

The good news is that 78 percent of all leisure tourism travelers are looking for cultural and heritage tourism sites. Sixty-five percent say they “seek a destination where building and surroundings have retained their historic character.” Additionally, 66 percent like to visit historic places.

The most recent figures from the National Park Service indicate that the 5.6 million visitors to the Natchez Trace in 2012 spent nearly $126 million in the surrounding communities. That’s just for one year.

The Natchez Trace is a federal parkway and maintained by the National Park Service, but the Highway 82 Heritage Highway is no less blessed with cultural and heritage points of interest.

For example: Columbus is the birthplace of Tennessee Williams, as well as the home to a university and many historic homes and buildings of architectural interest.

Traveling along the roadway, MSU has many historic and cultural opportunities as well as offering a thriving restaurant and nightlife scene. When one arrives in Webster County, important sites are there as well.

The Webster County Courthouse in Walthall, which is being considered for renovation, is but one example of a historic site that will attract legal and history scholars.

All along Highway 82 are many places that simply need to be prepared for company and advertised to visitors.

The Blues, stained-glass Tiffany windows in sacred spaces, movie sets, one of the largest free-standing crosses in America, the desk where the 1890 state constitution was written, a museum filled with memorabilia from the McCain family’s service in three wars, a museum dedicated to Kermit the Frog and some of the best Southern cooking that can pass through your lips, all of these are available along Highway 82.

Lets keep our treasures ready for company. Preserve the things that may seem ordinary to us, but are oh so very valuable to our tourism economy. This is part of a very large economic engine.

It would just be silly to do otherwise.

Republican Sen. Lydia Chassaniol of Winona represents Attala, Carroll, Grenada, Leflore, Montgomery and Tallahatchie counties.