The long-anticipated Tanglefoot Trail, a 44.53-mile paved ribbon on a former railroad bed from New Albany to Houston opens at 6:13 a.m. Saturday, almost 10 years after the last railroad owner abandoned the route, and seven years after planning started for a scenic pathway sculpted and paved through parts of three counties, Union, Pontotoc and Chickasaw.
The $10.1 million project opens a perspective spanning parts of three centuries in Mississippi’s history, most notably as a route first built under the inspiration and leadership of the celebrated Col. William C. Falkner, the Tippah County great-grandfather of novelist William Faulkner of New Albany and Oxford’s only Nobel laureate. The writer changed the spelling of the family name, adding the “u.”
The lines owners over time included the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad. The Mississippi Tennessee Railroad was the line’s last operator.
The Tanglefoot Trail will accommodate bicyclists, skaters, hikers and runners.
The timing of construction and opening couldn’t be better because walking, hiking, cycling and running all enjoy deepening support as personal exercise and recreation of choice for millions of Americans.
The trail is broadly part of a nationwide rails-to-trails movement that adapts former railroad rights-of-way for recreational use, while preserving the property under public easement for potential reconversion for rail lines and other public transit, as need arises.
The Mississippi Department of Transportation holds the Tanglefoot easement.
The trail’s structural sponsor is the GM&O Rails-to-Trails Recreational District, headed by Betsy Hamilton of New Albany. It voted Monday to approve the opening.
A statute called the Federal Railbanking Act allows local governments to take over such rights-of-way and operate them as recreational entities to keep the “linear property” intact.
The rail line from New Albany to Houston was completed in 1909 and played a major role in the economic development of the towns along its route.
It’s hoped that Tanglefoot Trail will generate a new kind of economic stimulus from the recreational users who will have to leave the trail for accommodations and food, similar to the towns along the Natchez Trace Parkway and towns near the Appalachian Trail. The trail is expected to eventually attract up to 100,000 users each year. If most of them spend even a modest sum in the area, the impact will be helpful.
For more information, call Three Rivers Planning and Development District at (662) 489-2415.