Calhoun rails-to-trails meets opposition

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

BRUCE – No trail. No way.
That’s the message that some landowners and residents are trying to get across to Calhoun County supervisors about the possibility of a paved recreational trail following a 21-mile railroad between Bruce and Coffeeville that was last used in 2008.
Earlier this year, boards of supervisors in Calhoun and Yalobusha counties formed the Mississippi and Skuna Valley Rails to Trails Recreational District.
Federal Rail Banking legislation provides for abandoned railroads to be owned by local authorities in case the property is ever needed again for a railroad or other linear utility. The law allows such lands to be used meanwhile as biking, pedestrian and horse-riding trails, and proponents tout them as promoting both healthy lifestyles for local residents and tourism opportunities for visitors.
Last month a group of residents and landowners met with Calhoun County supervisors to ask them to oppose the proposal. According to the Calhoun County Journal, objections voiced at the meeting included the concern over the land’s rightful ownership, the need for more land for rest and service areas if the trail were to be built and expense to the county to police and maintain the trail.
Bruce resident Annette Woodson told the Daily Journal that all the landowners she knows oppose the proposal.
“The original deeds say if the rails come up, the land is supposed to revert to the landowners,” she said. “This was just an easement that the landowners deeded to the E.L. Bruce Company. They never sold the land.”
Concerns over criminal behavior are another concern.
“This goes through a rural community, from a dry county to a wet county,” Woodson said. “One of the first comments made was this will make it possible to get to the liquor stores on four-wheelers without getting on the highway.”
Jimmy Gage Dobbs, a Calhoun City dentist and avid bicyclist, supports the idea of the trail.
“I think about safety all the time. If you’ve got a rails-to-trails, all you’ve got to worry about is the crossroads,” he said.
Dobbs said he’d like to see other trails develop from Oxford to Coffeeville and from Bruce to Houston, linking up with the Tanglefoot Trail, a 42-mile trail that is scheduled to open next year between Houston and New Albany. Such links would total some 120 miles.
Citing the success of South Mississippi’s Longleaf Trace as a draw for bicycling tourists, he said, “That would pull in the serious folks.”
The Bruce and Calhoun County chambers of commerce will hold a joint meeting at noon on Oct. 23 at the old E.L. Bruce Co. building in Bruce to discuss the proposed trail. A Longleaf Trace representative will speak.
errol.castens@journalinc.com