By Floyd Ingram/Chickasaw Journal
HOUSTON – Initial work on Tanglefoot Trail rolled into Houston this week with heavy equipment clearing brush along the trail.
Good weather has allowed work on the 44-mile asphalt path, that will stretch from New Albany to Houston, to move forward rapidly and initial work on the project should reach the southern terminal this week.
“This is grubbing work that clears the brush,” said Lee Nabors, Houston’s representative on the Rails-to-Trails Board of Directors. “That work will be followed by leveling and putting rock down and then laying asphalt. The asphalt has made it to about Foster Town Road and I’m glad to see this work get to Houston.”
Nabors said the project has an early April date to finish construction.
“I don’t think people realize how nice this trail will be and what is will bring to both Houlka and Houston and all the points along the trail,” said Nabors. “We’re pleased with the way work in coming along.”
Houston will be the southern gateway to Tanglefoot Trail. Houston’s gateway will feature a building with bathrooms and local history exhibits that tells a little about this area.
Houlka will be a “whistle-stop” where cyclists, runners and local walkers can stop and rest.
Nabors said bids on the four whistle stops on the trail will be opened Dec. 11. Bids for construction of the gateways have not been advertised.
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 its end at Church Street in Houston.
If all goes according to schedule, the trail should be complete and open for public use by late spring or early summer 2013.
“There is not a doubt in my mind that once the trail open the entrepreneurial spirit of people around here will find a way to capitalize on this project,” said Nabors. “Bike shops, bed-and-breakfast inns and restaurants are just a few of the businesses the trail should draw to this area.”
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.
The goal is to have trail users sleep in local motels, buy from local stores and eat at local restaurants.
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.
But Nabors cautioned that the public is not allowed on the trail at this point.
“No one is more excited or wants to use this trail more than me,” said Nabors. “But it is still a construction site and we are having to keep people off it so they don’t get hurt. We’re just asking people to be patient.”
Houston Town Marshal Billy Voyles said police will be patrolling the trail and anyone found using it can be fined up to $375 for trespassing and if they are riding a ATV it can be seized.
“It’s under construction and until it is officially opened, people have to stay off it,” said Voyles. “This is the only warning we are giving and we will be strictly enforcing the no trespassing until it opens.”
The community is urged to contact local law enforcement if they see anyone walking or operating a vehicle on the trail during construction.
The rails-to-trails project will see the old GM&O railbed turned into a 10-foot wide multi-use trail for cyclists and pedestrians. The project will have two three-foot wide shoulders on each side of the trail.
The first phase of the project has brush being 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 in 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.
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 GM&O District.