LeFleur’s Bluff State Park is busy this summer, as improvements to Museum Boulevard, the extension of the Museum to Market Trail and construction of a new playground are under way.
If that’s not enough, the Mississippi Children’s Museum celebrates the state’s innovators and creatives as part of its first new exhibit since it opened 10 years ago.
Reconstruction on part of Museum Boulevard, which fronts the Children’s Museum and the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, is about a quarter of the way complete, said Marcy Scoggins, spokesperson for the Mississippi Department of Finance Administration.
Hemphill Construction is the general contractor for the project, which extends from the intersection with Riverside Drive to the end of the four-lane boulevard section, includes laying conduit for Entergy and putting in a new water line, as well as rehabbing the surface of the road.
“They hope to have the east lanes finished by the end of July, weather permitting,” Scoggins said. “Once they finish the east lanes, they’ll move to the west lanes and do the west lanes. The final stages will be milling, paving and striping with the west lanes done first and the east lanes second.”
Access is open to the museums, but drivers should be cautious in the construction area.
The project, which is budgeted at $1.9 million and being paid for by Capitol Complex Improvement District funding, is expected to be completed by the end of the year or early next year, Scoggins said.
The curbs along the east lanes of Museum Drive have been removed and will be replaced after the sidewalks are finished as part of the project to extend the Museum to Market Trail from Riverside Drive to the entrance of the Children’s Museum.
Chad Tolles, a project engineer with Neel-Schaffer Engineering, said a substantial amount of work on that end of the trail has been done. “They’re getting close to the end of it,” he said.
“Dr. Clay Hays Jr., a volunteer and advocate for the trail, said he’s already seen people using the sidewalks. “People are running up and down along there,” he said.
The Museum Trail is made possible with federal grants from the Federal Highway Administration appropriated by the Mississippi Department of Transportation and the Central Mississippi Planning and Development District, with grant dollars matched by generous financial contributions from the private sector. Additionally, organizations such as the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership and the Jackson Heart Foundation, along with numerous individuals and volunteers, contributed resources.
The Museum Trail provides access to four museums and three parks: the Mississippi History Museum, the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, the Children’s Museum, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science, Belhaven Heights Park, Laurel Street Park and LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.
The trail is part of a vision advocates share to improve Jackson, Hays said. “If we’re going to make Jackson a better place, we’ve got to do something,” he said.
A state-of-the-art playground, which is being built between the Children’s Museum and the Museum of Natural Science, is targeted to open in late summer.
The improvements to the park are funded by the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, which awarded a $3,855,000 grant to the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks Foundation for the LeFleur’s Bluff State Park Education and Tourism Partnership. The partnership includes the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks’ Mississippi Museum of Natural Science and the Children’s Museum.
The grant is funding not only the playground but also an outdoor classroom and pavilion and museum trail. The classroom and pavilion and walking trail are expected to be completed by early 2022.
Susan Garrard, president of the Children’s Museum, is pleased with all of the work under way at LeFleur’s Bluff State Park.
“Both the Children’s Museum and the Museum of Natural Science welcome visitors from all 50 states,” she said. “They are both award winning. The Mississippi Children’s Museum received the 2021 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The museum was one of six recipients.”
The Children’s Museum promotes health and wellness, and the playground that is being construction will certainly do that, she said.
`Inside the museum, visitors of all ages can enjoy the new WonderBox makerspace, a 1,500 square-foot science, technology, engineering, arts and math exhibit in the museum’s existing arts gallery.
“We have everything from some of Dr. Arthur Guyton’s inventions to the first pair of shoes boxed in Mississippi,” Garrard said. “There’s also a beautiful collection of Choctaw Indian baskets that the Mississippi Department of Archives and History helped with us and a Fraggle Rock from the Jim Henson Family Foundation. Those collections are in the space where children can create their own inventions and explore their own ideas.”
About 40 percent of visitors to the museums are adults, and the WonderBox collection offers plenty of things adults can discuss with children, she said. “It’s a very good conversation starter,” she said.
Garrard expects a joint entrance to the Children’s Museum and the Museum of Natural Science that will be grander to be constructed in the next year to year and a half.