A legacy worth a second look. That’s the idea behind the National Heritage Areas program, established by Congress 25 years ago to celebrate parts of the country where historic, cultural and natural resources merge to make a “nationally important landscape.” President Ronald Reagan even called them “a new kind of national park.” In all, there are 49 of these areas around the nation, and Mississippi boasts three.

THE DELTA

It’s called the cradle of American culture, and for good reason: the Mississippi Delta is home to a whole lot of beginnings—from new musical genres and agricultural methods to fresh ideas in cuisine and literature.

Eighteen counties make up this designated area, which makes the most of its picturesque location alongside this country’s greatest waterway, the Mississippi River. The fertile soil that was born from the river’s rich deposits gave rise to the crop they called King Cotton, and visitors can explore the impact this export had on human lives. That fertile ground also inspired the creation of blues music, which turned many humble local performers into legends known around the world. Following their melodic paths is as easy as tracking the Mississippi Blues Trail. The Civil Rights Movement also swept through this area like a mighty river, helping to wash away some of the stains of the past. Today, creativity—in fields ranging from film and poetry to rock ’n’ roll and fine arts— flourishes here and can easily be appreciated by visitors who explore these diverse communities.

THE GULF COAST

Nature and artistry collide in the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This six-county area was first inhabited by Native Americans before Spanish and French explorers sailed into our coastal waters, and well-preserved historic homes and buildings dating back hundreds of years are still accessible to visitors.

The present-day Gulf Coast is home to innovation and industry in the areas of shipbuilding, aerospace and more. Some of the country’s most famous creative spirits have also left their mark here, producing artworks inspired by these stunningly beautiful surroundings. But the area’s natural beauty is still pristine, beckoning modern adventurers or serenity seekers to explore our beaches, bays, swamps and islands, as well as the nation’s last remaining unimpeded river, the Pascagoula. Of course, you can’t forget to have a taste of our seafood specialties, fresh from the waters that also feed our souls.

THE HILLS

Julie Andrews may have been referring to the Alps, but these hills are just as alive with the sound of music. In fact, the Hills region of Mississippi claims some of the most popular musicians in the world as natives, from Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis to Tammy Wynette and Howlin’ Wolf. But this massive area—made up of 19 full counties plus parts of 11 more—has also been the stomping ground of other creative giants, including authors William Faulkner and John Grisham.

Situated at a crossroads between Appalachian and Delta cultures, the Hills was also a crossroads for the Confederacy during the Civil War, when one of the largest sieges ever conducted in the Western Hemisphere took place here in Corinth. Milestones on the road to equality also happened here, including James Meredith’s enrollment as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi. Even the Natchez Trace Parkway—the scenic road that leads to many of the most distinctive destinations in this area—is in itself a major attraction, providing a feeling of peace in what Faulkner dubbed his “postage stamp of native soil.”

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