By NEMS Daily Journal
Those who live along the Natchez Trace tend to take it for granted.
It’s a commuter route, a way to get and from work or, in the case of Tupelo, across town. Or maybe it’s thought of as a slow but direct route to the Jackson area. And, oh, that 50 mph speed limit.
Less often does the fact that it’s a national park come to mind – a 444-mile “parkway,” after all. That’s its principal reason for being. The other ways of looking at the Trace are secondary to its purpose, though obviously important to daily users.
But when viewed in the context of its status as a park, the undeveloped potential of the Natchez Trace – notably the part that runs through Northeast Mississippi and Tupelo, its headquarters – becomes more apparent.
In an interview with Carlie Kollath in the Sunday Journal, Superintendent Cam Sholly outlined what’s already been done to enhance safety and convenience on the Trace since he assumed his post in 2009. And he also talked about a future focus that will enhance the Trace’s historical sites and make the parkway “more like a park” now that the decades-long task of completing the Natchez to Nashville roadway is complete.
Tupelo isn’t generally regarded as one of the Trace’s stronger areas for historic sites. That could change if plans for a Chickasaw heritage center come to fruition.
The Natchez Trace and others locally have been in contact with the Chickasaw Nation about that possibility. They’re only preliminary discussions at this point, but the Tupelo area is the natural place for such a center since it’s the Chickasaw homeland.
A Chickasaw heritage center would provide greater understanding and appreciation for this area’s early native inhabitants. It would also be a major attraction for tourists using the parkway, with the attendant economic impact that would bring.
In 2011, 13.8 million people used the Trace. Many of them were traveling to and from work or using the parkway without any thought of sightseeing, but that leaves many more who’d stop in Tupelo to see such a center.
Sholly’s also concerned – and rightly so – about a gradual change in the parkway’s character if viewshed restrictions keep easing to allow for development. There’s got to be a balance that maintains the uniqueness of the experience of traveling the Natchez Trace.
The Trace is an often underappreciated asset in Northeast Mississippi. It’s a good thing that careful strategic thinking is in progress to make the most of its presence here.