By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
NEW ALBANY – Construction began last week on Tanglefoot Trail, a 44-mile stretch of former railroad which will be converted to a 10-foot-wide paved path for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The first phase includes clearing, bridge repair and trail construction and is scheduled to be completed in early 2013. Phase 2 will see construction of welcome centers in New Albany, Pontotoc and Houston, along with “whistle stop” rest-area facilities at Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma and New Houlka. An equestrian trail also is under consideration.
“The Rails to Trails project keeps the railway corridor intact in case of future needs for rail transport, utility or other use,” said Randy Kelley, executive director of Three Rivers Planning and Development District. “By preserving that corridor, the local governments of our area have done a far-reaching thing to ensure future economic development opportunities.”
Betsey Hamilton, chairwoman of the GM&O Rails-to-Trails Recreational District, added, “As we seek to provide economic opportunities for the communities along the trail, the Tanglefoot Trail will provide people of all ages an attractive place to bike, walk, jog or simply enjoy the outdoors.”
Tanglefoot Trail gets its name from a locomotive on the earliest railroad built on the route, which was founded by writer William Faulkner’s grandfather.
Organizers hope to duplicate the success of Mississippi’s longest rails-to-trails conversion to date, the 40-mile Longleaf Trace between Hattiesburg and Prentiss.
The Longleaf opened in 2000 and has seen as many as 65,000 users in a year, giving rise to businesses from stables to cafes and bed and breakfasts.
“Our communities are going to change because of this, and we’re going to become destination towns because of this,” Hamilton said. “I think the trail is going to set [this region] apart, from Tupelo to Corinth to Oxford.”
Tanglefoot Trail will offer outdoor recreation in an environment that includes townscapes, upland forests, farms and wetlands.
Stops along Tanglefoot Trail also will offer unique historical perspectives on varied subjects including geology and fossils, Middle Woodland mound builders, the Chickasaw Nation, early settler life, the Civil War and the region’s industrialization.
The project is funded through a $9.6 million federal Transportation Enhancement grant as well as lesser state grants and appropriations.