1998 Regular Session
To: Public Property
By: Senator(s) Simmons, Walls, Dearing, Johnson (38th), Horhn, Furniss
Senate Bill 3044
AN ACT TO AUTHORIZE THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE AND ADMINISTRATION, ON BEHALF OF THE DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE, FISHERIES AND PARKS, TO CONVEY ALL OF ITS RIGHT, TITLE AND INTERESTS IN THE GREAT RIVER ROAD STATE PARK TO THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE OF THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR FOR THE SOLE PURPOSE OF THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE "GREAT RIVER EXPLORERS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK"; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
WHEREAS, in 1541, Hernando De Soto, as leader of a Spanish exploration expedition, became the first European to see the Mississippi River. As such, he is commonly named as its "discoverer". The exact location is unknown, but it is generally agreed that it took place on the east bank of the Mississippi River somewhere between present-day Rosedale, Mississippi, and one hundred miles north of that point; and,
WHEREAS, in 1542, after wandering about in what is now Arkansas, De Soto returned to the Mississippi, died, and was buried in the River under the cover of darkness, at a point which many historians, including the nation's foremost De Soto scholar, Dr. Charles Hudson of the University of Georgia, believe to be approximately fifteen miles south of the Great River Road State Park which is located in Rosedale, Mississippi; and,
WHEREAS, the remnants of De Soto's army overwintered at some point north of the place of his burial, where they built large boats which they used to take them down the Mississippi River to safety in Mexico in 1543; and,
WHEREAS, in July, 1673, Father Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, led the second expedition of Europeans to explore the Mississippi River. In canoes, they descended the River from the Great Lakes as far as an Indian village on the east bank of the River just north of and opposite the mouth of the Arkansas River, virtually on the exact spot of the aforesaid Great River Road State Park. Here, they were entertained and headed back toward Quebec after learning from the Indians that the River flowed into the Gulf of Mexico instead of into what is now known as the Pacific Ocean as they had hoped; and,
WHEREAS, nine years later, in 1682, Rene' Robert Cavalier, Sieur de La Salle, another Frenchman and leader of the third European exploration of the Mississippi River, became the first European explorer to travel the length of the Mississippi River to its mouth. On his way down the River, in March, 1682, on a spot within several miles of the aforesaid Great River Road State Park, La Salle built the second fort in the Mississippi valley. At that same time, La Salle was entertained at an Indian village opposite the site of the fort, and there on March 13, for the first time, he planted the arms of France, erected a cross, celebrated mass, and claimed the Mississippi valley for the King of France. On April 6, La Salle reached the passes in the delta of the River and repeated the ceremony. On his return trip back up the River toward Quebec, the cross opposite Rosedale was still standing and the Indians had enclosed it with a palisade or fence; and,
WHEREAS, in 1685, La Salle, sailing from France, attempted to land at the mouth of the River, but overshot it and landed in Texas near the Brazos River. His ships were destroyed in a sudden storm. While going overland to find the Mississippi River, La Salle was assassinated by some of his men. Remnants of his party, after wandering for more than a thousand miles for six months, finally struck the Mississippi River at the mouth of the Arkansas, just south of Rosedale, Mississippi; and,
WHEREAS, the vicinity of the proposed National Historical Park is nationally significant because it is the only vicinity closely associated with all of the first three European explorations of the Mississippi River valley. These explorations had a significant impact on the history and development of the United States, including establishing France as a colonial power through the middle third of the present-day continental United States resulting in the introduction of French-speaking people in large numbers. The descendants of these settlers have had a major impact on the culture of the United States. Further, all of the early explorers - De Soto, Marquette and Joliet, and La Salle - are significant in the history of this nation; and,
WHEREAS, the Lower Mississippi Delta Initiative of the National Park Service has documented and recognized the overwhelming national importance of the Mississippi River, and the significant national contributions made by the early explorers; and,
WHEREAS, Mark Twain, the great author and authority on the Mississippi River, stated in his Life on the Mississippi about the area of the Mississippi River near its junction with the Arkansas River, "Therefore, three out of the four memorable events connected with the discovery and exploration of the mighty river, occurred, by accident, in one and the same place." That place has a modern name - Rosedale, Mississippi; and,
WHEREAS, the leading De Soto scholar alive today, and frequent consultant to the National Park Service, Dr. Charles Hudson of the University of Georgia, stated regarding the idea of the proposed national Historical Park, "I heartily agree that there is a definite place for an interpretive museum devoted to the exploration of the Mississippi River in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries. And part and parcel of this museum should be an effort to reconstruct the social history of the native societies in these same 'forgotten centuries.' This entire era of Southern history is missing from our historical consciousness. A museum could go a long way in repairing this"; and,
WHEREAS, no unit of the National Park Service exists on the banks of the Mississippi River which interprets the expeditions and contributions of all of these great Mississippi River explorers; and,
WHEREAS, no unit of the National Park Service exists which interprets the lives and ways of the Native Americans who encountered these explorers; and,
WHEREAS, there is a great need for a national historical park that will interpret the exploration of the Mississippi River in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth centuries; and,
WHEREAS, the Great River Road State Park occupies the most appropriate location along the Mississippi river for visitors to learn more about the early explorers and the Native Americans they encountered; and,
WHEREAS, the Great River Road State Park is located within the limits of the City of Rosedale, in Bolivar County, Mississippi; and,
WHEREAS, a National Historical Park at Rosedale would be one of many attractions of interest to history-oriented visitors in the vicinity. Others include the Winterville Mounds State Park, the Walter Sillers House, the Grace Episcopal Church, and more; and,
WHEREAS, the lands on which the Great River Road State Park is located are sixteenth section lands which were set aside, reserved, and dedicated for ninety-nine (99) years in 1975 by Bolivar county to the Mississippi State Park Commission for the purpose of locating a state park thereon; and,
WHEREAS, the Great River Road State Park is wholly located within the boundaries of the federally-designated Mid-Delta Empowerment Zone, one of only three rural empowerment zones in the nation. Creation of the proposed National Historical Park would help diversify the local economy, provide jobs for local residents, and help reduce local poverty; and,
WHEREAS, Delta State University is located eighteen miles from the Great River Road State Park and maintains various academic programs which would significantly benefit from an active relationship with the programs of the proposed National Historical Park; and,
WHEREAS, The Mayor and city Council of the City of Rosedale and the Board of Supervisors of Bolivar County each unanimously passed resolutions urging the creation of the proposed National Historical Park on the site of the existing Great River Road State Park, and both resolutions urged that the State of Mississippi, for no compensation, transfer all assets of the Great River Road State Park to the National Park Service for its use in the creation and operation of the proposed park; and,
WHEREAS, Delta State University has formally endorsed the creation of the proposed National Historical Park. In his letter of endorsement, dated September 16, 1997, the President of the University stated, "The area currently occupied by the Great River Road State Park is one of the most historic spots on the entire Mississippi River." The letter further related the direct involvement of each of the first three explorations with this site. Further, the letter stated that the Department of History and the Division of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation specifically endorsed the creation of the proposed National Historical Park; and,
WHEREAS, the proposed National Historical Park has been evaluated based on the criteria used by the National Park Service to determine whether a proposed park should be established. The proposed Great River Explorers National Historical park exceeds the established criteria; and,
WHEREAS, creation of the National Historical Park will annually attract tens of thousands of historically-oriented tourists who might not otherwise have traveled to Mississippi.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. The Congress of the United States is urged to create the "Great River Explorers National Historical Park" on the site of the present Great River Road State Park, as a unit of the National Park Service, with the purpose of the Great River Explorers National Historical Park to be to interpret the expeditions of the first three great explorations of the Mississippi River by DeSoto, Marquette & Joliet, and LaSalle, and to interpret the social history, lives and ways of the Native Americans they encountered near the river.
SECTION 2. If the Congress will take the action urged in Section 1, the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration, on behalf of the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, is authorized and directed, for no compensation, to transfer and assign the assets of the Great River Road State Park to the National Park Service for its use in the creation and operation of the Great River Explorers National Historical Park, subject to the continued ownership of the lands as sixteenth section lands. Further, the local school board in Bolivar County with responsibility for these sixteenth section lands is authorized to set aside, reserve, and dedicate these lands, including the surface and subsurface natural resources, for a period of ninety-nine (99) years, to the National Park Service for the purpose of establishing the Great River Explorers National Historical Park thereon.
SECTION 3. The National Park Service, in operation of the park, is urged to hire all of the employees of the Great River Road State Park on the date of transfer.
SECTION 4. The Congress of the United States is urged to appropriate sufficient construction funds for the National Park Service to develop a museum and interpretive exhibits at the park which will educate visitors generally about the explorers, their expeditions, and the Native Americans they encountered, and specifically interpret the local historical events related to these and other expeditions which occurred in the vicinity of the Great River Explorers National Historical Park.
SECTION 5. The Congress is further urged to appropriate sufficient operating funds for the National Park Service to adequately manage an active interpretive program at the Great River Explorers National Historical Park.
SECTION 6. The National Park Service is encouraged to enter into a mutually supportive cooperative agreement with Delta State University regarding the operation of all appropriate aspects of the programs of the Great River Explorers National Historical Park.
SECTION 7. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.