Natchez — Many business transactions have taken place along the historic Natchez Trace Parkway since the late 1700s, when it was one of the most important roads in the nation, and an avenue of exploration, international rivalry, warfare, trade, settlement and development.
The completion of the last 20-mile section in the metro Jackson area of the 444-mile federal byway should boost tourism in Mississippi, which features the lion’s share of the road.
“We’re very enthusiastic about the Natchez Trace Parkway officially opening the last segment,” said Craig Ray, tourism director of the Mississippi Development Authority. “It’s taken almost 67 years and $700 million, but finally the Trace will be open all the way from Natchez to Nashville. We’re excited about the opportunity to promote it as a completed destination.”
The riverside city of Natchez is primping for the official ribbon-cutting festivities that will take place Saturday, May 21, on the southern terminus of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which features the 24,000-square-foot Natchez Visitor Reception Center. Opened in 1998, the center is jointly occupied by the National Park Service, the Mississippi State Welcome Center, the City Of Natchez and Eastern National Bookstore.
“The Trace has taken longer than the Hoover Dam to complete,” said Walter Tipton, director of tourism for the City of Natchez. “We’re very excited about it.”
The National Scenic Byway and All-American Road has emerged as one of America’s most important examples of our nation’s natural and cultural heritage, said Compact president Hattie Ruder, executive director of the Ridgeland Tourism Commission.
“Not only is the road the second longest national parkway, it is also the seventh most visited national park,” she said. “National and international visitors alike are drawn to the road’s non-commercial environment, coupled with a wide variety of historic sites, wayside exhibits and beautiful venues. It is truly a memorable destination for an unhurried trip that both reveals and explains a unique time in our country’s history.”
The Natchez Trace represents a venue that defines our community in a different light than antebellum homes and plantation mansions, said Tipton.
“It can represent the frontier spirit and is a treasure chest of historic sites and events that shaped this entire region,” he said. “You cannot put a price on the natural beauty found in this ribbon of green that stretches from Nashville to Natchez, but you can leave with a sense that it will only increase in value as people experience the drive along a non-commercial route through Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi.”
The Natchez Trace Parkway Compact reported that the average travel party to the parkway consists of 2.3 adults who spend nearly $500 during 3.1 days.
“Now the Trace will represent a completed tourist experience, and we’ll truly find out what those tourists want to do,” said Ray. “You have to drive slower, and with that, you get a chance to take in the experience through historical markers, trails and hopefully all of the towns along the way. That’s what we want, because that’s where everybody wins.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.