Tunica-Biloxi Tribe working on plans to assume Historic Site operation

By Raymond L. Daye

   News that the state was closing the Marksville Historic Site as part of its budget cuts hit this parish hard and unexpected. It was a classic blindside. The response to that news may just be remembered as one of Avoyelles’ “finest hours” as the City of Marksville and the Avoyelles Police Jury both made plans to do whatever was needed to keep the park and museum open.
   In the end, the Tunica-Biloxi Tribe stepped up and offered to provide funding, federal contacts and personnel to ensure Marksville and Avoyelles Parish would not lose the tourist attraction most call the “Prehistoric Indian Park.”
   Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Chairman Joey Barbry said the tribe has been talking with the Office of State Parks about the process and details involved in transferring management of the site from the state to the tribe.
    Barbry said there were a few tribal government issues that demanded more attention than had been expected, but “all of those have been settled and we are working on our vision for the Historic Site.” He said he expects the state to transfer the park to the tribe by the end of June.
    The state has indicated it will try to keep the park open until the tribe is ready to assume responsibility for its operations.
    “By the end of June I hope to have a plan for a cultural program, an outreach program and a schedule of activities and events,” he said. “By that time, we will have a good grasp of what the site will be under my direction.”
     Barbry said that far from losing the park, he believes the park and museum will be even better than before.
     “We will keep this park open for Marksville and Avoyelles Parish,” Barbry assured.
     He said the tribe will try to connect the tourist attractions of the Tunica-Biloxi Reservation with those of the prehistoric Indian park and museum. Barbry said one event that is in the “active planning” phase is to have a “parish picnic” at the park. In addition to that, the park will continue its tradition of tours for school, church, civic and senior center groups.
     While everyone hopes for an immediate transfer from state to tribal management, Barbry said it is possible the state might have to close shop before the tribe has everything in place to take over.
     “If there is a lapse, it would only be a week or two at the most,” Barbry said. “If there is a lapse, we will ensure that it is a productive time and use it to be certain that everything is ready when it opens under our management.
     “The main thing is,” he added, “that we want to make the park a pleasant experience for visitors who come there, whether they live here are visiting from other states.”