RIDGELAND – Support for a project that would transform Old Trace Park at the Ross Barnett Reservoir into a recreational playground for Madison County
residents, young and old, is quickly gaining momentum.
Members of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s business and industry committee had wrapped up discussions of various economic development issues
during a summer meeting when the conversation turned to recreation.
“It all started as a lark,” said Mark S. Bounds, committee chairman. “We decided to forget about the hard side of business for a moment, and asked each other, ‘what
do you do after work around here for fun?’ You’d think we’d unlocked a secret door. As an adult, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to get together in Madison
County. We started asking for suggestions, and ideas spread like wildfire.”
After weeding out less feasible plans, the committee opted to pursue a $7-million project at the reservoir, which includes turning Old Trace Park into a recreational
playground with expanded docking, sand beaches, a swimming area and a natural amphitheater.
“I cannot emphasize enough that it is not merely a Madison County Chamber project, but truly a joint project, in which reservoir director Ken Griffin has been an
integral part,” said Bounds, who will preside over MCCC next year.
In the mid-1990s, the board of directors of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District came up with a major upgrade and expansion plan for recreational facilities
and received appropriations of $2 million in seed money for improvements to one park in each county, said Griffin.
“After we had made the improvements, the big one left was Old Trace Park in Madison County,” he said. “We had about $350,000 allocated to it, but we told our
landscape architects and park planners not to be bound by funding. We asked them to show us what we could do to make it a great area to attract families and
provide plenty of activities. They came up with a project estimated at $5.5 million. But we had other projects for the Legislature to consider, focusing first on
upgrading Spillway Road, a $5-million project that was approved and is underway.
“As we started thinking ahead, Mark called and told me what their committee had in mind. It turns out that their concept mirrored ours. After talking, we shared our
color plan and budget. The plans were modified to include major improvements to Madison Landing with boat launch facilities to make it much more usable for major
fishing tournaments, and we decided to collaborate on getting funding for this project.”
The Old Trace Park, with roughly 50 acres, is owned and maintained by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District.
The Ridgeland Lodge, once owned by Jackson businessman Jimmy Fowler and sold several years ago to the City of Ridgeland, which operates it, is located adjacent
to the park.
The project, which would include coordination between several entities, including the City of Ridgeland, the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District, the city
chambers of commerce in Madison County and the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, was immediately embraced by community leaders, said John Coward,
landscape architect and 15-year veteran of the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District.
“It’s an excellent plan that will benefit a lot of people and bring a lot of different types of recreation to the reservoir, the county and the City of Ridgeland,” said
The plan calls for an entry gate with signage, a guardhouse and formal entry, sidewalks with magnolia paving patterns to connect the playgrounds, jogging trails that
wind throughout the park, a terraced amphitheater and upgraded picnic structures. The existing children’s playground would be upgraded to include depictions that
trace the history of Madison County.
To break the wave action from the wind for expanded docking, the plan calls for creating an area-protected jetty. Other features include a boat ramp, retaining wall,
boardwalk and grandstand. More restrooms are proposed and renovations to existing ones are planned. An asphalt drive would be created from the parking lot to the
amphitheater, and the existing parking lot would be upgraded with landscaping and lighting.
Other special features include a sundial with ornamental paving patterns and lighting, earth-form seating and sand volleyball courts.
“In the warmer months, we envision renting umbrellas and chairs, and we hope to have concessionaires, like Sno Biz, for example,” said Bounds. “Instead of
occasional concerts, we envision a regular series, with tiered terrains surrounding a pavilion.”
On Aug. 29, the most recent business and industry committee meeting, members voted to go forward with the plan and appointed Andy Taggert as committee
chairman of the newly-created steering committee.
“It’s too early to say when the project will start,” Taggert said. “It all depends on the funding. I can say that we have a broad range of support from a coalition of folks
and organizations who are enthusiastically in support of this project. It is a perfect example of the creative energy of what can be done to better the community.”
Funding for the project could be derived from grants, legislative funding and private businesses. The Legislature could make a direct appropriation as part of an
agency’s budget or approve it through state bond financing. The latter route would likely be pursued because of the hefty price tag, Griffin said.
“These options are all part of a universe of choices and we haven’t yet decided which route to take,” Taggert said.
Gloria Johnson, president of the Madison County Chamber of Commerce, said the project would improve the quality of life for Madison County and metro Jackson
“Additional recreational opportunities builds on our overall mission of making Madison County a great place to visit and to raise families,” she said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.