• 48°

Some park roads, cemetery closed due to erosion, cave-ins

Scott Babinowich stopped at the yellow tape blocking the road at the National Cemetery in the Vicksburg National Military Park and pointed to the section of the road that caved earlier in the week.

“Like a lot of other areas, we have received some road damage that’s a direct result of the heavy rains we’ve had here in the Vicksburg area,” Babinowich, the park’s director of interpretation, said.

Looking at the road damage, he said the cemetery’s maintenance crew on Feb. 11 noticed some cracks appearing in the pavement, “So we preemptively closed the tour road to monitor the crack.

“Two days later, on Feb. 13, we saw a massive road failure as the road eroded; part of the slope has degraded,” he said.

Presently, Babinowich said, the cemetery is closed to visitors as park officials begin taking steps to deal with the problem.

“We have a couple of things that we’re working to mitigate,” he said. “One is to make sure the grave sites remain intact, so our No. 1 priority is to make sure that we’re stabilizing the slopes so that no graves are exposed.”

No sites have been exposed, he said, but some of the grave areas have been affected by the road problem. He said park officials are working with the Department of the Interior’s Region II office to look at the damage, perform surveys and develop a plan to repair the road.

Babinowich said there is presently no timeline for repairs, so the cemetery will remain closed.

“Our No. 1 priority is the archaeological assessment of the affected grave sites,” he said, adding that is underway by the National Park Services Southeast Archaeological Center from Tallahassee, Fla.

The area affected, Babinowich said, involves some of the older graves dug in the 1860s and involve mostly unknown soldiers.

The next step, he said, will involve working with regional National Park Service officials and federal highway officials to assess the damage and develop a plan for repairing the road.

Established in 1866, the National Cemetery covers 116 acres and holds the remains of 18,000 people. More than 17,000 are Union troops that are buried at the cemetery — more than in any other national cemetery — including 6,000 United States Colored Troops.

The cemetery has been closed to burials since 1961.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John