The Delta Grassroots Caucus (DGC) is a broad coalition of grassroots leaders in the eight-state Delta region. DGC is also a founding partner of the Economic Equality Caucus,
which advocates for economic equality across the USA.

“Delta Vision, Delta Voices”

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III. Protecting and Restoring Natural Resources and the Environment and Enhancing Tourism

“A river [the Mississippi] known by its ineradicable name to generations of men who had been drawn to live beside it as man always has been drawn to dwell beside water, even before he had a name for water and fire, drawn to the living water, the course of his destiny…”

William Faulkner, writing of the Mississippi River’s profound allure for many generations of people in the Delta

The Mississippi River is one of the great rivers of the world, accepting water from more than half of the United States, providing a transportation artery deep into the heart of America, and creating one of the richest agricultural areas in the world. From the pre-historic mound builders to the early explorers who traveled on the Mississippi River, from the trappers and early settlers to the people of today, the Mississippi River has been an integral part of the Delta communities. The Mississippi River created many of the 80-million acre Lower Mississippi Delta’s most valuable and well-known features: rich soils, extensive wetlands, and diverse habitats that support hundreds of species, the Mississippi flyway, and commercial and recreational fisheries.

For many years, there has been a focused investment and strong inter-governmental commitment to conserving natural resources and protecting local communities in south Florida and the Everglades. Now is the time for a similar commitment to work with and invest in the communities of the Lower Mississippi Delta.

These natural resources and the environment are the foundation upon which economic growth and a good quality of life are built. In 1990, the Lower Mississippi Delta Commission recognized the importance of protecting the natural resources and environment, and promoting a strong tourism economy. The Commission stated, “…in the long run, protecting the Delta’s environment pays dividends by attracting more businesses, tourism dollars, research grants for institutions of higher learning, and job opportunities.” Abundant natural resources provide raw materials, including a plentiful supply of clean water, for industrial, commercial, and residential uses. A clean and healthy environment protects human health, provides recreational opportunities, and forms the base of a strong tourism industry.

The key natural resource and environmental Federal agencies include the Department of Interior; the Environmental Protection Agency; the Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service; the Department of Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the Department of Defense’s Army Corps of Engineers; and the Department of Justice (including the Environmental and Natural Resources Division). These agencies—working with their State and local partners—have an opportunity to protect the unique natural resources and to improve the economic and social situation in the Delta.

Actions in the 1990s: Since the 1990 Report, progress has been made on several fronts. More than 300,000 wetland acres have been restored and lands have been protected in National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks. Flood control projects to protect communities have been completed. Water supply protection, including installation of sewage lines, is ongoing and the risk to human health from pesticides is being investigated. Environmental education and training have been expanded to provide better access to those most in need.

In recognition of the national importance of the cultural and natural assets of the Delta, portions of the Mississippi River were named an American Heritage River, providing local communities with coordinated Federal support for planning and project development. In addition, the Mississippi Delta Heritage Area study was completed, providing suggestions for natural and cultural resource protection and tourism development.

However, much still needs to be done. Since European settlement, 80% of the bottomland hardwood forests have been lost. Each year 25-35 square miles of coastal wetlands that provide habitat for key species, including many commercial fish species, are lost. Fish consumption advisories are widespread and poor water quality threatens the well being of people, fish and wildlife alike. The “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico threatens the continued viability of the commercial and recreational fisheries economy. Continual sedimentation of important channels threatens navigation and flood control. As the new century dawns, these are the issues that must be addressed.

Partnerships among Federal, State, and local governments, businesses and grassroots organizations: The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Justice, and the Environmental Protection Agency are active in many partnerships in the Delta with tribal, State, and local governments, private citizens, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations. Some of the major collaborative efforts include:

  • Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force—protecting coastal wetlands and understanding and slowing coastal land subsidence and land loss;

  • Gulf of Mexico Program and Watershed Nutrient Task Force—reducing the size of the “dead zone” in the northern Gulf of Mexico and assessing the effects of nutrient inputs into the Mississippi River;

  • Atchafalaya Basin Advisory Committee (see the article herein, “River of Trees”)—supporting the development of a plan for the Atchafalaya Basin that will protect the natural resources, provide flood control, enhance tourism, and strengthen the economy;

  • Mississippi American Heritage River Commissions—local organizations in Baton Rouge and Memphis working to promote the two Mississippi River American Heritage River designations through community improvement activities, historic preservation, tourism promotion, and other projects;

  • Lower Mississippi River Conservation Committee—providing recommendations to manage the aquatic resources of the Delta, including improving water quality;

  • River Corridors and Wetland Restoration Partnership Program—working to protect, restore, and reforest river corridors and wetlands near the Mississippi River; and

  • Lower Mississippi Valley Joint Venture—recovering waterfowl populations through protection and restoration of freshwater wetlands and shallow water habitats in the Delta.

These partnerships are crucial to improving the economic and social circumstances of the Delta while protecting natural areas, fish, wildlife, and the environment, and providing recreational and tourism opportunities. The ability to achieve the recommendations described below depends upon the success and continued development and strengthening of these collaborative efforts.


“It [the Mississippi River] remains what it always was—a kind of huge rope, no matter with what knots and frays, tying the United States together. It is the Nile of the Western Hemisphere.”

John Gunther

The 1990 Lower Mississippi Delta Commission recognized the importance of protecting and enhancing the vast natural resources of the Delta while improving the quality of life and economic viability of local communities. The Commission focused on a variety of concerns about natural resources, including wetlands, water quality and quantity, and habitat protection. The Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Interior, Justice, and EPA have partnered with tribal, State, and local governments, as well as with the private sector, to achieve the Commission’s goals.

These collaborative efforts have resulted in a wide spectrum of accomplishments in the areas of wetland quality and quantity, water quality and quantity, habitat preservation and restoration, forestry and minerals management, flood protection, river navigation, environmental outreach and planning, and support of local empowerment efforts. Highlights include the following:

  • The protection, enhancement, or creation of 300,000 acres of wetlands through various voluntary programs, including the Wetland Reserve Program, and enrollment of 2 million acres in the Conservation Reserve Program.

  • Over 35,000 acres of riparian buffers were installed and agricultural Best Management Practices were implemented to protect water quality.

  • The location of “essential fish habitat” to protect shrimp and other commercially important species was studied under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

  • Significant progress was made in the Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries Project to provide flood protection for Delta communities, ensure navigable waterways throughout the region, and provide an estimated $367 billion in total benefits for a cost of $10 billion.

  • Hazardous waste sites were cleaned up to protect and restore coastal and marine resources and natural water flows were restored to provide adequate clean water supplies.

  • Two-thirds of the rural abandoned mine lands in the Delta region were reclaimed.

  • Other accomplishments include the development of several intergovernmental initiatives, including the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force to protect coastal wetlands and address coastal land loss, and the Gulf of Mexico Program and Watershed Nutrient Task Force to address the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico.

Natural Resources Goals and Recommendations

While progress has been made in natural resource protection, many challenges remain to ensure that the Delta’s natural areas, fish, and wildlife are available for the enjoyment of future generations. To this end, the Federal agencies suggest setting a long term goal that we, with our State and local partners, can aspire to: The Lower Mississippi River and its tributaries will achieve a “fishable and swimmable” water quality standard. (This goal is defined in Section 101(a) of the Clean Water Act. However, in many areas the river still may be unsafe for swimming because of dangerous currents.) The Lower Mississippi River Delta—including ground and surface water, forests, wetlands, wildlife, fisheries, and other natural features—will be protected, restored, and sustained to provide for the personal, cultural, economic, environmental, and recreational needs of local communities—now, and for future generations.

For the next five to ten years, the Federal agencies propose the following recommendations that will help protect and restore the Delta’s natural resources.

Improving water quantity: Inadequate water supplies are a growing concern in the Mississippi Delta region. Important aquifers, including the Mississippi Alluvial and the Sparta are experiencing excessive drawdown and in some areas water shortages are already occurring. The Federal agency partners, in cooperation with State, local, and tribal governments, and other interested partners, should investigate, develop, and implement management strategies to ensure clean and sustainable ground and surface water supplies in the Delta for human, industrial, and agricultural use, and to sustain the natural ecosystem. These partners should work together to expand existing model programs in the Delta region to identify the optimal withdrawal levels from surface and ground water sources that will ensure the sustainability of water supplies by 2005. Using this information, the Federal agencies, working with the State and local governments, can identify water conservation strategies, additional water sources, and other methods to ensure minimum stream flow is maintained and to ensure the current trend of excessive water aquifer withdrawal is reversed.

Improving water quality: Water quality is an area of ongoing concern in the Delta. In many areas, fish consumption advisories are in effect. Pollutants come from many sources and can have a significant adverse effect on the health of the people in the Delta. The Federal partners should work with State, local, tribal, and other partners to bring 75 percent of all surface water in the Lower Mississippi Delta to a “fishable and swimmable” water quality standard as defined in the Clean Water Act by 2010. By 2005, the appropriate partners should expand monitoring across the Delta, including studies of water quality, pollution sources, toxins in fish, and effectiveness of best management practices, through the National Water Quality Assessment Program, the National Stream Quality Accounting Network, and other Federal and State programs. The appropriate partners should also pursue the following goals:

  • Take a watershed approach to water quality improvement.

  • Employ voluntary incentive-based programs to improve surface water quality and maintain ground water quality, and address point and non-point sources of pollution, including pesticide and nutrient loads.

  • Install, upgrade, and maintain adequate wastewater treatment facilities, including addressing combined and sanitary sewer overflows and proper management of onsite systems.

  • Ensure minimum stream water flow regimes, including use of water conservation methods.

  • Stop the encroachment of saline water into freshwater ground water, including managing excessive aquifer withdrawal. Implement best management practices for forests, wetlands, and agricultural and urban lands, including continued installation of riparian buffers.

Improving the health of the Gulf of Mexico: The Gulf of Mexico has a large “dead zone” where organisms, including important commercial fish, cannot live. Action is needed to identify and correct the causes of this problem. The Gulf of Mexico Program, in which the Federal agencies are partners, is working to reduce, mitigate, and control low dissolved oxygen levels in the northern Gulf of Mexico. The extent of the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” should be reduced according to the plan being developed under the Harmful Algal Bloom and Hypoxia Research and Control Act of 1998. The plan is expected to include investigation and description of the “dead zone”, monitoring of streams and wetlands for pollutants and nutrient loads, modeling processes for movement of pollutants and nutrients from landscapes to river systems, restoring wetlands, and managing river flows into coastal wetlands to reduce nutrients entering the Gulf of Mexico.

Protecting and Restoring Wetlands: Wetlands provide critical habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife in the Delta, are hatcheries to important fish species, and provide recreational opportunities. Wetlands also filter and clean water that flows through them prior to reaching the human water supply. Incentivesbased and voluntary easement programs and other tools, including the Wetlands Reserve Program, can be expanded to increase the acreage of protected wetlands in the Delta by at least 45,000 acres/year, helping the region meet its goal of adding special protection to a total of 200,000 acres by 2005 and 450,000 acres by 2010. Working through voluntary programs with willing landowners, including demonstration programs, the rate of restoration of forested wetlands should increase to 100,000 acres per year. The FY 2001 President’s Budget proposes to remove the Wetland Reserve Program’s cumulative acreage cap and allow up to 250,000 acres be enrolled annually. The appropriate Federal, State, local and private sector partners should work together to support wetland restoration efforts, protect wetlands from destructive practices and coordinate Federal activities, projects and policies, to ensure there will be no net loss of overall wetland acreage from 1990 levels and support the national goal of 100,000 acres net gain per year of wetlands by 2005.

The Atchafalaya Basin, a “River of Trees”

The Atchafalaya Basin, encompassing 1.4 million acres, includes the largest continuous river-swamp in the United States. In addition to providing habitat for more than 170 bird species, including 6 endangered species, and over 100 fish species, the “River of Trees” supports recreational activities that generate more than $123 million; supports commercial fishing and crawfish harvesting that generates $5-6 million; contains more than 25 percent of Louisiana’s commercial forest lands; contains more than 3000 oil and gas wells; and is crossed by major gas and oil pipelines. The Basin also has a rich cultural heritage, particularly the development of unique Acadian and Native American cultures, and is the home of several hundred archaeological sites.

Many of the problems common to the Mississippi Delta as a whole threaten the Atchafalaya Basin, including poor water quality, fish kills due to hypoxia, sedimentation, invasive exotic species, mercury in fish resulting in a fish consumption advisory, and subsidence and land-loss. These natural resource and environmental problems also result in economic and social costs, including human health problems, smaller commercial fisheries, and the increased risk of catastrophic flooding.

The Atchafalaya Basin, a “River of Trees” is the focus of a watershed-wide effort by Federal agencies, State and local governments, private citizens, academic institutions, and non-profit organizations to preserve and restore the river swamp, stop coastal land-loss, protect natural areas for wildlife and recreational use, develop ecotourism, enhance economic benefit to the local communities, and maintain a relief floodway for the lower Mississippi Valley and a major transportation artery for the nation. Wetland restoration provides important fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities. It also protects human and environmental health by filtering out pollutants and reducing nutrient loads, thus improving water quality and decreasing Gulf hypoxia. The reforestation of bottomland hardwoods and key upland areas controls erosion and sedimentation, thus protecting commercial fisheries, keeping shipping channels open, and ensuring continued flood control capacity. The collaborative effort being undertaken in the Atchafalaya Basin, to protect natural resources and the environment while improving the quality of life and strengthening the economy for local communities, serves as a model for further activities throughout the Lower Mississippi Delta.

Restoring coastal land loss: Coastal land loss due to subsidence and other factors continues to be an area in need of coordinated and corrective action. Members of the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands Conservation and Restoration Task Force and other partner groups should work together to reduce the current rate of loss of coastal wetlands by up to 20 percent by 2005 and up to 35 percent by 2010. These partners should investigate coastal land loss, including identifying areas most at risk, causes of subsidence, threats of sedimentation, and impacts of changed hydrologic characteristics to provide science-based information for coastal restoration efforts and protection of essential fish habitats.

Protecting wildlife habitat: In addition to providing habitat for wildlife, protected areas provide recreational use and can improve water quality by decreasing erosion and sedimentation. The land acreage under conservation status for wildlife and recreational use should be increased, giving special emphasis to decreasing habitat fragmentation through reforestation, protection of large land parcels, and creation of connecting wildlife corridors. Federal and State agencies, academic institutions, and other appropriate partners should engage in the following activities:

  • Use and expand ongoing demonstration projects and research to optimize land conservation, including investigating the value and use of restored and reforested wetlands, managed landscapes, wildlife corridors, and other lands to meet the needs of wildlife, to provide flood control, and to provide sustainable forest and agricultural production.

  • Increase and enhance the tools for voluntary restoration of fish and wildlife habitat on private lands by 2005.

  • Increase the acreage within designated National Wildlife Refuge lands in the Delta, purchased from willing sellers, by up to 50,000 acres by 2005 and up to 100,000 acres per year.

Flood control and floodplain management: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds a number of water resources projects, including a major flood control project along the main stem of the Mississippi River and in the watershed of one of its two principal outlets, Louisiana’s Atchafalaya River basin. In the Delta region as elsewhere in the Nation, the Corps also seeks to identify ways through which local communities can reduce the risk of flood damage while enhancing the natural values of their waters.

Improving public access to information on community safety, natural resource and environmental issues: The Federal agencies gather a large amount of information that is useful to local communities, including water quality, toxins in fish and other data. Through community partnerships and other collaborative efforts, the Federal agencies should pursue the following goals:

  • Expand community, county/parish, tribal, and State access to natural resource and community safety and hazard information, including preparation and warning for floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, chemical spills, and other safety concerns.

  • Locate, collect, develop, and maintain data and provide access to a regional clearinghouse containing benchmark information for fish and wildlife habitat, distribution, and movement; surface and ground water flow, quality, and quantity; and geological and geographical data, starting by 2005 and adding information as it becomes available.

  • Increase the availability of science-based digital data (GIS format) for planning and other purposes, at a regional, State, and local scale, to major communities (including Memphis, Jackson, Baton Rouge, Little Rock), counties and parishes, tribes, and Delta States, starting with the development of model programs by 2005.

  • Provide decision-making assistance tools to local communities that incorporate natural and social sciences with economic, social, and other interests, similar to the Integrated Science and Community-based Values in Land-use Decision Making Project, starting with pilot programs by 2005.

Controlling invasive species: Invasive species have become an area of concern across the nation. Invasive species can be costly to the environment and the economy when they push out native species, impede navigational waterways, and clog water supply pipes. The Federal agencies should work with interested partners, including local academic institutions, to develop monitoring and predictive tools and eradication methods to aid States, the private sector, and natural resource managers to slow the rate of exotic species invasion by 2005, with the aim of preventing the establishment and spread of invasive species.

These partners should also work together to reduce the geographic extent of the areas within the Lower Mississippi Delta impacted by invasive species in accordance with the plan being developed by the Invasive Species Council established under Executive Order 13112 and its State, tribal, and local government and private and non-profit partners. This plan will build on the National Strategy for Invasive Plant Management, published in 1998 by the Federal Interagency Committee for Management of Noxious and Exotic Weeds. The National Strategy, supported by a wide variety of public and private organizations, addresses effective prevention and control of invasions and effective restoration of affected lands through existing and expanded Federal and State programs.


The 1990 Lower Mississippi Delta Commission emphasized the importance of protecting the environment, human health, and the quality of life in local communities. The goals of the Commission focused on air and water quality standards, waste management, and environmental education. Since 1990, several other critical environmental issues have become national priorities, including health risks from pesticides, ensuring environmental justice for all communities, and community right-to-know about environmental issues.

The Environmental Protection Agency, with other Federal agencies and State partners, has taken the lead in pursuing the goal of a clean, safe environment for all U.S. citizens. There have been significant improvements in the health of the environment in the last ten years. Highlights include reducing air and water pollution through State implementation and enforcement of national emission standards and by managing storm water runoff through improved storm sewer systems to protect water quality. States and localities have been empowered to prevent, assess, safely clean up, and sustainably reuse brownfields and other waste sites. Public health protection has been strengthened by establishing new safety standards for all pesticides used on foods, by funding the Centers for Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research, and by providing new tools and resources for cleaner, safer water under the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments and the 1998 Clean Water Action Plan. Several outreach programs, including the Toxic Release Inventory and Surf Your Watershed websites, have enhanced public awareness and safety. In addition, the human and environmental health conditions plaguing minority and lowincome communities in the Delta have become a major focus area.

Environment Goals and Recommendations

While progress has been made in environmental protection, many challenges remain to ensure the health of future generations. To this end, the Federal agencies suggest setting a long-term goal that we, along with our State and local partners, can aspire to: Air and water quality, solid and hazardous waste management, and emergency response in the Lower Mississippi Delta will be improved, ensuring protection of public health and providing opportunities to build cleaner, safer communities in which to live, work, and play.

For the next five to ten years, the Federal agencies propose the following recommendations that will help to protect and improve the health of the environment.

Providing safe drinking water: Through targeted and affordable assistance for drinking water treatment and delivery systems, at least 95% of the population in the Lower Mississippi Delta should be served by community water systems receiving water that meets all healthbased standards by 2005. In addition, at least half of the population of the Lower Mississippi Delta should receive drinking water from systems with source water protection programs in place. In cooperation with State, county/parish, local and tribal government and private and nonprofit partners, guidance and technical assistance should be provided for private well owners to ensure the safety and protect the source of their drinking water.

Ensuring safe fish and safe beaches: By 2005, consumption of contaminated fish and shellfish and exposure to microbial and other forms of contamination in waters used for recreation will be reduced in the Lower Mississippi Delta. Working with States to expedite the pace at which they are strengthening their beach and recreational water quality standards, all States in the Lower Mississippi Delta should be using criteria at least as protective as the currently recommended national healthbased criteria by 2003.

Cleaning up sites and providing opportunities for redevelopment: By 2005, all applicable sites in the Lower Mississippi Delta with permits under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act should have approved corrective action plans in place. Also, by 2005, construction will have been completed at all Superfund sites in the Lower Mississippi Delta on the National Priorities List as of January 1, 2000.

Improving air quality: Air quality in the Lower Mississippi Delta will be adequately monitored for ozone and fine particulates, including additional special purpose monitors where needed to provide appropriate geographic coverage. All areas within the Lower Mississippi Delta will attain all national healthbased standards by 2010.

Reducing exposure to harmful chemicals: By 2005, the public health and environmental risk from pesticide use in the Lower Mississippi Delta will be reduced by 50% from 1995 levels, through training and outreach to pesticide applicators, farm workers, and the public on steps to take to reduce pesticide exposure. Allowable pesticide residue levels will be reviewed to ensure that they meet the new, tougher health standards under the Food Quality Protection Act. New pesticide products will be reviewed as quickly as possible so farmers will have access to these new, safer substitutes. In addition, assistance will be provided to increase the use of practices such as buffer zones and filter strips, which result in protection of ground and surface water resources from pesticide runoff.

Improving the public’s right to know: Federal agencies and other partners should work to improve the public’s access to information in the Lower Mississippi Delta on public health, safety, and environmental quality in their local communities, including information on the quality and sources of local drinking water, the use and release of toxic chemicals, the safety of eating locally-caught fish and shellfish, and the monitoring and safety of swimming in local recreational waters, by 2005. Through the Internet, outreach efforts, consumer confidence reports and other tools, all Lower Mississippi Delta communities and residents should have full access to current, accurate, and substancespecific information in order to expand community involvement and help residents make informed choices about their local environment and how to protect themselves and their families as they see fit.

Preventing pollution and ensuring clean-up: On September 9, 1998, Attorney General Janet Reno and Carol Browner, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced the Mississippi River Basin Initiative, a multi-agency crackdown on pollution in the Mississippi River Basin. Since this announcement, Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, together with United States Attorneys’ Offices, has furthered the government’s efforts to address illegal pollution in the Mississippi River Basin. Attorneys from the Environmental Division and Assistant U.S. Attorneys have attended joint training programs and are working together to investigate cases involving civil and criminal environmental violations within the Mississippi River Basin. Justice Department attorneys are also working with State and local jurisdictions to create and strengthen existing environmental crimes task forces. These efforts have resulted in civil and criminal environmental cases being filed against individuals and corporations in approximately 15 Federal districts within the Mississippi Delta region. The Division will continue its efforts to target pollution in the Mississippi River Basin.


“In the Delta, most of the world seemed sky…The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragonfly. It seemed strummed, as though it were an instrument and something had touched it. Sometimes like a fuzzy caterpillar looking in the cotton was a winding line of thick green willows and cypresses, and when the train crossed this green, running on a loud iron bridge, down its center like a golden mark on the caterpillar’s back would be a bayou.”

Eudora Welty, in Delta Wedding, describing a traveler’s enjoyment of the Delta landscape

The 1990 Lower Mississippi Delta Commission recognized that tourism has tremendous potential for sparking economic growth in the Delta. The Commission focused on recommendations to State and local governments, including developing a regional tourism organization, improving the marketing of the Delta, developing thematic tourism corridors, trails, and programs that connect the region, and promoting the Delta environment. The Lower Mississippi Delta contains many interesting and valuable sites related to the earliest recorded history of the United States. Areas of special historical and cultural interest include ancient Indian mounds where large cities flourished, the DeSoto expedition trail, Mississippi River plantations, Civil War battlefields, sites embodying African-American history, and Civil Rights sites. In addition, the natural beauty of the Delta is a major tourist attraction.

Tourist revenue brought almost $13 billion to the Delta in 1998. Millions of visitors come to enjoy the natural beauty, culture, food, and deep historical, musical and literary heritage of the region.

Tourist revenue in the Delta (1998)

Arkansas: $1.8 billion Illinois: $0.27 billion Kentucky: $0.55 billion Louisiana: $5.67 billion Missouri: $0.78 billion Mississippi: $1.36 billion Tennessee: $2.54 billion

Total: $12.96 billion

The National Park Service, Department of Transportation, Department of Commerce and other agencies, working with State and local partners, have pursued a series of initiatives designed to promote tourism for the region. These efforts have resulted in several key accomplishments. In particular, the designation of the Lower Mississippi River as an American Heritage River by President Clinton in 1998 is helping to focus Federal, State, and local efforts on strengthening historic and cultural preservation, natural resource protection, and economic revitalization. The Delta Heritage Area study was also recently completed, providing a wide variety of recommendations for the protection and enhancement of natural and historical sites. Planning is currently underway for an Arkansas Delta Heritage Trail that may include a Japanese-American Internment Camp, the Helena Blues Center, and an Indian Mound site. Existing National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks provide recreational and tourism opportunities.

Tourism Goals and Recommendations

The tourism industry in the Delta has begun to develop. However, significant opportunities exist for expansion. While tourism development is primarily a State and locally driven process, there are certain key areas where the Federal agencies can be of assistance. We suggest the following long-term goal to support State and local efforts: The most significant and unique historic, prehistoric, and cultural features of the Delta will be preserved and restored for the use, enjoyment, and education of current and future generations. Recreational, educational, and tourism opportunities in the Delta will be enhanced. For the next five to ten years, the Federal agencies propose the following recommendations that will help to develop a strong tourism economy.

Supporting the Delta National Heritage Area: National Heritage Areas provide significant opportunities to encourage citizens, local businesses and organizations, and local governments to work together to foster a greater sense of community, to reward community pride, and to care for their land and culture. A National Heritage Area is a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic, and scenic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinct landscape. National Heritage Areas represent the national experience through the features that remain and the traditions that have evolved from them. Continued use of National Heritage Areas by people whose traditions helped to shape the landscapes enhances their significance. Among the original heritage corridors and areas are some of the most successful and inspiring conservation strategies in America today. Heritage partnerships have been praised as problem solvers, as unifiers, as proof that environmental and economic progress can be consistent. A National Heritage Area in the Lower Mississippi Delta would provide a tremendous opportunity to develop and interpret the myriad of historically significant sites and communities. Congressional designation of a National Heritage Area will strengthen local economies by helping to increase interest in and tourism to the Delta.

In 1998, the Lower Mississippi Delta Heritage Area Study was completed. The study identified a wide variety of important natural and cultural sites in the Delta that could strengthen the tourism industry. The study offers four management alternatives focused on nine themes: natural resources, flood control and navigation, New Madrid earthquake zone, cultural diversity, American Indian heritage, African-American heritage, Civil War, Delta Blues, and Delta Agriculture. A Congressionally designated Heritage Area in the Delta could encompass one or several of these themes or other themes of interest to, and developed by, the local community. Heritage Areas are developed, protected, interpreted, and preserved by the people living in the community with ongoing help and support from Federal agencies. At the request of a coalition of local organizations, the Federal agencies could help local Delta communities implement the study suggestions to establish, develop, and market a model National Heritage Area in the Lower Mississippi Delta by 2005.

The Federal agencies and other parties should work to prioritize and protect the Delta’s most significant historical, prehistorical, and cultural sites and traditions, as defined with the local communities and described in the Lower Mississippi Heritage Area Study. Technical assistance should be provided to support the planning, development, and implementation of educational and tourism opportunities associated with the Heritage Area with special emphasis on protecting and developing African-American and American Indian history through trails, museums, and other cultural sites. The Lower Mississippi American Heritage River program should continue to be supported. Technical assistance should be improved to local communities for economic development, cultural, historic, and environmental projects as defined and prioritized by the local American Heritage River Commissions.

Protecting Civil War sites: The Mississippi River linked North and South and divided East and West during the Civil War, making control of the river crucial to both sides. Some of the greatest battles of the war were fought there and the Delta region is rich in Civil War history. We should act to protect the sacred ground and priceless artifacts of our Civil War sites to honor our ancestors and to help future generations understand the American struggle to become united as one country. Using the prioritized list of America’s Civil War Battlefields developed by the Civil War Advisory Commission, and beginning with those Battlefields identified as most threatened, these important historical and cultural sites should be preserved through the American Battlefields Protection Program and other programs.

In addition to protecting Civil War Battlefields, tourism opportunities should be enhanced through the development of a Vicksburg Civil War Trail. By protecting and interpreting our Civil War sites, not only do we provide people with the opportunity to understand America’s past, but we also provide local communities with an improved economic base as more tourists are drawn to a community. The Vicksburg Campaign was one of the most important campaigns of the Civil War. In his effort to take Vicksburg, General Grant engaged in battles in Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. The final series of battles began in Mississippi at Grand Gulf in March 1863, traveling up to Jackson, and finally ending at Vicksburg in May-July 1863. The National Historic Park at Vicksburg commemorates the battle and siege of Vicksburg. However, the other battle sites and fortifications, and the marches endured on the Vicksburg Campaign, have long been recognized as important to provide a full understanding of the battle for the Mississippi. Important sites include Arkansas Post, Milliken’s Bend, the winter quarters in Tensas Parish, Grand Gulf, Snyder’s Bluff, Jackson, Port Gibson, Raymond, Champion Hill, and Big Black River Bridge. By developing a trail that follows General Grant’s footsteps from battlefield to battlefield, we can gain a better understanding and appreciation for the great efforts and sacrifices of our ancestors and we can celebrate our American heritage.

Highlighting and protecting civil rights sites: African-American history, and the folktales that described that history, were rooted in pain and suffering and religion and joy. To many, the civil rights movement is identified with the 1960s. But civil rights is not just a 1960’s phenomenon. The struggle for civil rights began, no doubt, with the first slave, but was expressed publicly through a series of uprisings and rebellions during the era of slavery, and given voice by the music and folktales of the people who lived the pain, and by the literature of such notables as Harriet Beecher Stowe. The push for civil rights was a grassroots movement that ordinary people participated in, and that ultimately changed the way that every person in this country lives. Thus the civil rights movement of the 1960s was but a late chapter in a long book.

The national civil rights movement is integral to understanding politics and the civil rights movement in the Delta region. There were many key players in the movement—schools, churches, individuals and organizations. Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, played a major part in shaping integration throughout the nation. The church also played a role in the political and civil rights processes. Individuals such as Dr. Martin Luther King forged inroads into the broader society of America that could not be reversed.

So many of the rich aspects of the history of African-Americans are grossly under-represented in this country. Visitors should have the opportunity to learn about this history. Important places in the history of civil rights and other aspects of African-American history generally are not included in tours.

The tourism industry and the heritage agencies in State and Federal government need to highlight significant sites and resources associated with African-Americans—of the contributions of black people to the civil rights movement and in the shaping of regional and national politics, of the role of historically black institutions of higher learning, of the way the story has been told by black storytellers, black historians, and teachers of black history, of the systems of control (such as Jim Crow laws, literary tests, voter rights acts), of the locations and structures that play a role in key events related to the struggle, of the network of people and places that collectively made up the underground railroad, and of the significance of major court decisions from Plessy v. Ferguson to the landmark Brown v. Board of Education.

“Since its founding in 1965, NEH has given more than $15 million in grants that have affected the Delta in profound ways. From the preservation of local papers that documented the history of Delta communities to creating a film on the Mississippi Voter Registration project, NEH has sought to preserve the history and culture of the Delta and to share its rich worlds with the rest of the nation.”

William R. Ferris, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

National Endowment for the Humanities initiatives in the Delta: Under the leadership of Chairman William R. Ferris, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has funded an extensive list of projects in the Delta. These initiatives not only brought more dollars to the area, they also provided for the academic and intellectual fostering of the region by giving more resources to scholars and institutions of higher education. Since its founding in 1965, NEH has given more than $15 million in grants that have affected the Delta in profound ways. From the preservation of local papers that documented the history of Delta communities to creating a film on the Mississippi Voter Registration project, NEH has sought to preserve the history and culture of the Delta and to share its rich worlds with the rest of the nation.

To cite one example of the numerous projects in the region, NEH provided a $50,000 grant to the University of Illinois in 1997 to support the development of a prototype of a Mississippi River Basin Website database focused on the history and culture of the Delta. Another example was a $190,000 grant in 1996 to the University of Arkansas to support the creation of multimedia software dealing with the history of Native American encounters with Europeans in the Mississippi Valley, incorporating documents, audio-visual materials and foreign language materials. In 1998, Loyola University in New Orleans received a $25,000 grant to support a Humanities Focus Grant faculty study project as part of a new interdisciplinary American Studies minor on the development of American photography from the daguerreotype to the computer-based image. The NEH Division of Public Programs provided funding for the film, Freedom on My Mind, which tells the story of the 1961-64 Mississippi Voter Registration Project through the voices of participants.

These innovative activities have broadened the cultural and intellectual horizons of many people in the Delta, and NEH should continue to receive steadfast support in the years beyond 2000.

The River Road African-American Museum & the American Heritage River Initiative

Long missing from the experience of Delta visitors has been an adequate portrayal of the culture and heritage of African-Americans who lived along the River Road Corridor between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, Louisiana. A small museum, located on the old Tezcuco plantation in Burnside, Louisiana, is one effort to help fill that void. The River Road African-American Museum and Gallery collects, preserves and interprets artifacts about the history and culture of African-Americans, particularly those who lived, worked and died within the River Road Corridor. As its brochure suggests, the museum pays tribute to the hundreds of slaves who were purchased and brought to Burnside, Louisiana in 1858.

Through partnering with the Lower Mississippi American Heritage River Alliance, efforts are now underway to enhance and enlarge the River Road African-American Museum. The major development program, including buying new land and relocating existing buildings, will make this the only African-American Museum complex devoted to the heritage and history of thousands of slaves who were brought to work on plantations along the Mississippi River.

The Africa Plantation House, once owned and named by Dr. John H. Lowery, a black doctor in Ascension Parish, is one of the buildings that will be moved to the new site. The historical significance of the circa 1830 building stems partly from its architecture, but more so from its association with Dr. Lowery, who employed 200 workers on his rice and sugarcane plantation. Later, the house was the home of Leonard Julien, who invented the sugar cane planting machine in 1964.

The Central Agricultural Schoolhouse, once alive with the voices of African-American school children from the community of Convent, will take on a new life at the new site. As an art gallery and museum, it will, fittingly, feature an exhibit on education in rural communities, offering the visitor a look back in time to those earlier days.

Travel and tourism initiative: The Commerce Department will continue to work with State and local tourism organizations to develop marketing programs designed to increase the awareness of the Delta as a showcase for cultural and historical activities. The Office of Tourism Industries will work with State and local governments and organizations to develop planning and implementation strategies that build on the results of the 1998 Lower Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study. It will also provide follow-up assistance to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and the Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture on programs currently underway.

Tourism marketing plan: The Mississippi Delta region enjoys extraordinary recreational, historical, and cultural assets that today generate more than $13 billion a year in new revenue from related tourist activities. A regional tourism marketing plan would coordinate efforts among the region’s tourism bureaus and agencies locally and at the State level, along with related private sector interests such as chambers of commerce, hotel and restaurant associations, and other entities, to market the entire Delta region as a prime tourist destination for music, art, history, culture, and natural beauty. This would not only be an efficient means of promoting the region’s tourist assets, but it would also enhance the region’s tourism profile in this country and abroad. The initiative would feature a region-wide conference that would lead to the establishment of a long-term action program. Existing authorities among relevant Federal departments and agencies would combine with funds from public and private tourism interests to defray conference and related costs. Such agencies would include the Department of Transportation, which has responsibility for scenic by-ways, millennium trails, American Heritage Rivers, national park and public lands transportation, as well as the Department of Commerce. Federal funding would be used for technical assistance and coordination of activities in partnership with State and local agencies and private sector entities.

Providing outdoor recreation and tourism and enhancing open space: Natural resources are one of the Delta’s greatest assets, and as more and more of the country urbanizes, demands on the Delta’s natural areas will increase. To meet these demands we should provide, improve, and publicize public use and educational capabilities at National Wildlife Refuges, National Parks, and other Federal facilities to support a steady increase in outdoor recreational and tourism opportunities (environmental education, hiking and boating, wildlife viewing and photography, hunting and fishing). There should be improvements and expansions of visitor facilities; increased outreach to local communities through public/private habitat improvement projects, promotion of tourism opportunities, and other methods; and increased availability of environmental education programs. The Federal and State partners should work with local community partners, through programs such as Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance and through the Urban Recreation Research Center at Southern University in Baton Rouge, to preserve open space in and near urban communities with special emphasis on parks, trails, and river corridors that provide a variety of recreational and educational opportunities and environmental benefits.


One of the greatest arenas for future tourist development lies in the realm of culture. The Mississippi River is the cradle of American literature and music. Many of America’s greatest writers lived and traveled along the Great River, from Mark Twain to Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Walker Percy, and Eudora Welty. There are many historic sites along the Delta that trumpet the region’s great cultural contributions to the world: the Blues, Jazz, Country, Cajun, Zydeco, Gospel, Rock & Roll, and Rhythm and Blues. Famous sites in the Delta include Muddy Waters’ cabin, Storyville in New Orleans, the Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and the Museum of the Mississippi River in Memphis. New Orleans is the birthplace of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and Mahalia Jackson, the famed gospel singer. The University of Mississippi is a world-renowned showcase for the literary genius of William Faulkner. Currently, people from around the world come to see these attractions. Some of these sites are already preserved and used to promote tourism, while others need to be redeveloped.

The region’s literature and music play a role in racial healing. Many of the Delta’s most profound literary works lament the tragedy of racism. People from all ethnic backgrounds have contributed to the Delta’s musical heritage: many Americans have believed that rock was only the “whites’ music,” or that jazz and rhythm and blues were exclusively developed by African-Americans; but a closer view of the region’s heritage will reveal that African-Americans and Hispanics influenced rock and country, while there were white influences on jazz, gospel and rhythm and blues. Given the importance of music to the day-to-day lives of ordinary people, racial healing through music may have a more broad-based impact than purely academic discussions of the matter.

Considering the Delta’s profound contributions to America’s cultural tradition, there is great untapped potential in expanding this phase of the region’s tourist industry. One proposal for helping to promote the development of tourism is the creation of a “National Cultural Heritage Trail” to help promote the development of tourism. Such a trail would preserve vital historic sites and cultural traditions, promote tourism, and advance the President’s initiative on race by helping the nation understand the diverse racial crosscurrents that have enriched American music and literature. The trail would develop a tour route and “living museum” along the River. Potential governmental and nongovernmental partners might include record companies, cable music channels, musical instrument companies, railroads, airlines, rental car companies, music foundations, movie studios, local chambers of commerce, Empowerment Zones/ Enterprise Communities, Champion Communities, and others. USDA’s Rural Development, the National Parks Service, the National Endowment of the Arts, the National Endowment of the Humanities, the Smithsonian Institution and its Festival of American Folk Life, State arts councils, and rural development councils could also assist in this effort.

Promotion of greater regional, national and international interest in the Delta’s literature and music would not only enhance economic development through expansion of the region’s tourist industry, but even more importantly, it would enrich the educational and cultural fabric of American society as a whole.