Mother Nature more than cooperated with sunshine and fall-like temperatures Saturday for the official unveiling of the Civil War Helena Interpretive Plan. Optimism was the order of the day as a sizeable number of locals and out-of-state visitors turned out to witness what the residents of this Delta community hope to be a rebirth through tourism-generated dollars.

The day’s activities began at the Helena River Park where the 12th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery Reorganized out of Camp Nelson, Ky. put on an impressive artillery demonstration with the firing of a Civil War replica cannon. The opening ceremony was originally scheduled at the future site of Freedom Park on South Biscoe but was moved because of wet grounds.

Between 9:30 and 11 a.m. the scene shifted to two historic home sites – Estevan Hall on Biscoe and the Moore-Hornor House on Beech Street – where visitors were treated to tours of majestic sites that played pivotal roles in the Battle of Helena in 1863.

Saturday’s ceremony marked the official start of a 2-3-year Civil War Interpretive plan for the city of Helena. The historic and remodeled Malco Theater served as the backdrop for the event.

The Civil War Interpretative Plan was born out of the Delta Bridge Project’s Strategic Community Plan that began back in 2005. The long-range plan document was the result of 10 months effort that featured input by more than 300 Phillips County residents. It was the consensus of those involved in the plan’s development that tourism was the most viable means of generating economic development.

Civil War Helena contributes five of the eight strategic goals in the Strategic Community Plan.

“Tourists spend an average of $50 per day,” reported Joseph Brent of Mudpuppy & Waterdog, Inc., a firm out of Versailles, Ky. brought in to develop the Civil War Helena Plan. “A total of 20,000 visitors a year will generate $2 million in revenue.”

During his presentation, Brent presented the question to local residents, “Why should I care?”

“This,” he said, “is a diverse plan to help people understand what went on here during the Civil War here.”

The purpose of the plan is to:

* help make meaningful connections
* communicate meaningful connections
* provide more than just facts;
* provide questions.

Secondly, the Civil War Interpretive Plan objective is to give voices to all of the people that were part of the civil War experience in Helena – Confederate and Union, soldiers and civilians, men, women, black, white, rich and poor.

A total of 28 sites, mostly in Helena, have been selected for exhibits and the hub of tourist attractions. Brent’s wife, Maria, listed five key locations for the plan, the Delta Cultural Center, the Phillips County Museum, Estevan Hall, Fort Curtis Reconstruction site and Freedom Park. The exhibits and attractions will include murals, statues, reproductions, architecture, multi-media, outdoor exhibits and interpreters who will bring life to a particular site.

Mark Christ of the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, Department of Arkansas Heritage, presented the Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission Film. There is hope that a large portion of the Civil Helena War Plan will be completed by 2011, the start of the state’s Sesquicentennial celebration and no later than the Sesquicentennial celebration of The Battle of Helena.

The day’s organized activities concluded with a presentation on the impact of freemen on the Union Army by Robert Bell, 1st Sgt., 12th USCHA and the history of the Gunboat Tyler by Jack Meyer, Delta Cultural Center education director.

For a comprehensive look at the Civil War Interpretative plan go to www.deltabridgeproject.com, click on “The Plan.”