By Errol Castens
PONTOTOC – GM&O Rails-to-Trails Recreational District officials say they will reschedule grand opening ceremonies for the Tanglefoot Trail because they’re not sure it will be completed in time.
Having hoped for actual completion of contractor work and Mississippi Department of Transportation inspection in late August, board members had set Sept. 21 as a tentative date for the ceremonial opening of the 44-mile paved trail between New Albany and Houston.
“Things didn’t work out to open in August,” said Ronnie Bell of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which handles the district’s administrative functions. “Two weeks is absolutely the least amount of time we need to pull something like that together.”
Board members have not yet set a new date for the ribbon cutting, but Oct. 5 was suggested as a likely date.
Bell said three main concerns remain regarding construction – one stretch near Houlka on which grass has not been established to prevent erosion, another section where shifting soil has cracked the asphalt surface, and ongoing bridgework on U.S. 78 over the trail near its terminus in New Albany.
“When we have the ceremonial opening, it’s more than likely that that section will not be complete. We will probably keep that section of the trail barricaded off,” Bell said. “At this time we are not of the mind that we keep the rest of the trail closed just because of that section.”
Mike Falkner, a principal with Engineering Solutions Inc., said it’s impossible to say when MDOT might approve the project.
“There are an awful lot of miles of trail right-of-way that have to meet the standards,” he said.
Trail officials note two safety-related concerns. One is that the trail is not lawful for public use at all until its official opening, which will be within a day or so of MDOT’s final inspection. To be on the trail without permission constitutes trespassing.
Moreover, some people are using road vehicles on the trail, whose paved path and former railroad bridges are sized only for bicycles, pedestrians and the occasional golf cart to pass.
Trail Manager Don Locke said law enforcement responds quickly to such misuse. He recently took an automobile on the trail for a quick look at a problem spot and was greeted by two blue-lighted cars.
“I can say for sure the Chickasaw County Sheriff’s office will catch anybody using a vehicle on there,” he said.
The district board will hold its regular monthly meeting on Monday. If the trail is not then ready for opening, they will hold a special meeting to officially open it as soon as MDOT gives approval.