Pine Belt tourist attractions looking for big year in 2012

2012 to be a busy year for the Pine Belt's top tourist attractions.
2012 to be a busy year for the Pine Belt's top tourist attractions.

LAUREL, MS (WDAM) - 2012 will be a memorable year for many of the Pine Belt's most popular tourist attractions. In Laurel, the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art is preparing for two major exhibits in the coming months.

The first will be Southern Journeys. That's an exhibition of works from African-American artists of the South.

Later this year, an exhibit of prints and objects from internationally-known artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude will be featured.

And in just a few weeks, ground will be broken for a new, $5 million addition to the museum.

"It will give us more exhibition space, it will give us more space for meetings, concerts, lectures, special events that we host here at the museum," said George Bassi, museum director. "And it will give us a new art storage vault, which is badly needed and it will really help us to care for the collection for generations...(along with) a covered loading dock and a new shipping and receiving area. All that will take place and hopefully be constructed by the end of the calendar year," Bassi said.

The groundbreaking ceremony for that new addition will be held on Jan 25.

Meanwhile, in the Hub City, the folks at the Hattiesburg Zoo are also looking at some big construction projects for this year. Slated for completion in 2012 is a new tiger holding facility, a new petting zoo, a new education center and a new walkway along the backside of the zoo's lake.

But, perhaps the most important project is the building of the zoo's new quarantine and animal hospital. The completion of that project could help the zoo obtain national accreditation.

"Accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is important to us," said Rick Taylor, executive director of the Hattiesburg Tourism Commission and the Hattiesburg Convention Commission. "It's something that takes time to do and to build towards. That quarantine is a huge step forward. It's a deal-breaker, if you will. So, we need to get that up. Our education program, I think, is top-notch and having the right facility and a better facility for that will move us toward accreditation and with that accreditation, will come the opportunity to house a broader collection of exhibits and animals," Taylor said.

Also, Hattiesburg's African-American Military History Museum will have some special activities coming up this year, including lectures by veterans of the Vietnam War throughout the month of February.

On January 26, those veterans will be honored at a special event.

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