By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
HOULKA – Initial construction work on Tanglefoot Trail rolled through Houlka last week and is headed to Houston.
Crews with Glasgow Construction first cleared the old railroad of saplings and grass, graded a path with a bulldozer and then covered it with crushed rock. An asphalt surface is the next step in a process that will create a 10-foot-wide trail stretching from Houston to New Albany.
“We’ve been told it’s about 10 miles to Houston,” said Chris Foster, who was operating a boomed mower for Glasgow last week. “Weather, the condition of the rail-bed and other things affect how fast we go, so I can’t tell you how long it will be until we get to Houston.”
Houlka will be one of four “whistle-stops” on the route and the community hopes to capitalize on the trail.
“I think it will bring people and revenue to Houlka,” said Houlka Mayor Jimmy Kelly. “We are looking to put up some signs to let people know what is in Houlka and also to tell a little of our history.”
Kelly said stores and restaurants need to start thinking of ways to pull people off the trail and into their businesses.
“This town is here because the railroad was here,” said Kelly. “It hurt Houlka when the railroad left. This will bring people back and it will be a place for local folks to enjoy, too.”
Clearing and construction on the 44-mile Tanglefoot Trail began more than three months ago. Tanglefoot Trail runs through three north Mississippi counties – Union, Pontotoc and Chickasaw. The Trail begins at Main Street in New Albany and runs approximately 44 miles south to end at Church Street in Houston.
The rails-to-trails project is converting old GMamp&O railroad track into a 10-foot wide multi-use trail for cyclists and pedestrians. The project will have three-foot wide shoulders on each side of the trail.
The first phase of the project will see brush cleared from the rail-bed and the repair of about 30 bridges crossing creeks along the corridor. Phase One will see an asphalt surface stretching the length of the trail completed by the end of this year or early 2013.
The second phase of the project will consist of design and construction of gateway buildings in New Albany, Pontotoc and Houston. This phase will also include the construction of “whistle stop” rest-area facilities at Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma and New Houlka.
Tanglefoot Trail has an estimated economic impact of as much as $4.8 million for Northeast Mississippi. The trail is expected to see up to 100,000 users each year.
Houston’s gateway will be built near the site of the old railroad depot, south of where the railroad crosses U.S. Highway 8 in Houston.
The project is partially funded by a $9.6 million federal Transportation Enhancement grant administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Other funding includes $350,000 in state money and a $100,000 trails grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks.
Engineering Solutions of Pontotoc is the project engineer and Glasgow Construction of Guin, Ala., was awarded the construction contract.
Three Rivers Planning and Development District serves as the administrative and fiscal agent for the GMamp&O District.
Project officials remind the public the trail is still off-limits until construction is complete.
Any unauthorized person utilizing or accessing the trail will be subject to being arrested and charged with trespassing. The trespassing charge can carry up to a $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
The community is urged to contact local law enforcement if they see anyone walking or operating a vehicle on the trail during construction.