Riverwalk a pathway for recreation, quality of life

by Becky Gillette

Published: May 9,2005

Columbus — A project six years in the making designed to enhance quality of life and economic vitality by adding a 1.4-mile Riverwalk and Trail along and over the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway near downtown Columbus is nearing reality with the opening of the new walking, jogging and bike path expected at the first of June.
Jan Miller, manager of Main Street Columbus, said the Columbus Riverwalk and Trail is for the community to use and enjoy.

“It will really add to the aesthetics of the downtown,” Miller said. “It will be a place to have fun and utilize one of our most valuable resources, the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The plan is based on sound urban design principles that will attract public and private investment, increase tourism and foster a sense of community pride.”

While the river has been visible before from downtown, as part of the Riverwalk project underbrush has been cleared giving a more panoramic view of the scenery. There are elevated views from two bridges on the pathway, one over Moore’s Creek and another over a small, unnamed tributary.

The path is lighted the entire way, and has bicycle racks, benches, trashcans, restrooms and two pavilions. There is also all new landscaping. And a downtown property owner donated land for a parking lot at the trail head.
Recreational facilities such as Riverwalk add greatly to the quality of life, Miller said.

“Everybody is interested in recreation,” Miller said. “Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said when he visited here that people can live anywhere in the world. It is the quality of life they are looking at when they choose a place to live. The Riverwalk is one aspect of quality of life we want to add to the community.”

The new amenity gives visitors to the 10 restaurants downtown an opportunity to take a stroll and enjoy the scenery either before or after a meal. The Riverwalk is also expected to be popular with residents of the 107 apartments downtown. Conversion of the upper floor of downtown buildings to apartments has brought new life to the downtown.

The Riverwalk and Trail is similar to scenic river pedestrian pathways in Columbus, Ga., and Chattanooga, Tenn. Projects in both those towns are very popular with visitors and residents alike, and members of the Columbus Riverwalk Committee toured those cities before embarking on plans for the project.

David Sanders, a member of the Riverwalk Committee, said their vision is that the Columbus Riverwalk will broaden the use of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, stimulating tourism, improving the quality of life, protecting the environment and strengthening the economy.

The City of Columbus received a $1.4-million federal grant in 2000 and the city and county provided a 20% match for the project designed to enhance economic growth while attracting tourists and local citizens to use this walk. The federal grant funds came from a federal program known as TEA 21. TEA 21 stands for the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.

Four other communities in East Mississippi area have also received TEA 21 grants for similar bike and pedestrian path projects: Eupora, Meridian, Mississippi State University and West Point. The Mississippi State grant was for a $1.3-million bicycle path and pedestrian path. The University of Mississippi has also received alternative transportation funding for a TEA 21 project, as have the cities of Booneville, Oxford, Lafayette County, New Albany and Batesville.

George H. Irby, director of federal programs for the City of Columbus, said the Riverwalk was designed to have waterproof lights that can go underwater during period of flooding without being damaged. The trail is also designed to be low maintenance.

The pavilions on the trail are expected to be a popular place for social activities including wedding receptions and family reunions.

“The proximity to downtown and the view of the river at each end of the walk will be most popular,” Irby said.

And more is yet to come. Irby said the city hopes to use future rounds of TEA 21 funding a phase two and three of the project. Those projects would extend the length of the trail by several miles, and also connect the Riverwalk with an old bridge that goes to an island in the middle of the river. The expanded trail would also link up with a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers nature trail, giving visitors even more opportunities for recreation.

Riverwalk isn’t just an investment in quality of life, but the future.

“It’s just possible that we may be creating a legacy for the future that will bring pleasure to many generations to come,” Miller said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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