>> MDOT awards $3 million for metro area improvements
Cities are realizing that hike and bike trails are not only important for citizens’ quality of life but are also a powerful economic development tools.
Recently, the cities of Jackson, Ridgeland and Flowood received a collective total of $3.1 million for pedestrian trail enhancements awarded through the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Jackson received $1.1 million to build a new hike and bike trail that will start at the Mississippi Agriculture Museum and end at the Farmer’s Market downtown. Heart of Mississippi Trails signs will appear along the route.
To enhance existing trails, the city of Ridgeland was awarded $1.1 million, while Flowood received $1 million. Cities must pay 20 percent in matching funds as part of the federal Transportation Enhancement Program.
The Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, which helped write the grant for Jackson’s upcoming trail, hopes the trail will eventually hook together with others to make a more extensive trail network, like those found in larger cities such as Minneapolis, Nashville or Portland, said group president Duane O’Neill. As far as Mississippi trails go, the “Longleaf Trace is one we admire a whole lot,” he said.
The Longleaf Trace is a 40-mile, paved, multi-use trail built with $5.6 million in federal dollars. It runs through the towns of Prentiss, Carson, Bassfield and Sumrall and ends near the main University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg. The Trace was built on a former rail line of the Mississippi Central Railroad and includes an equestrian trail that follows it for 22 miles.
Chad Newell, president of Hattiesburg’s Area Development Partnership, said the Longleaf Trace is “a wonderful quality of life amenity for the area and always something we mention for business recruitment. … We pride out selves on quality of life here in Hattiesburg … but it also plays into corporate decisions. Certainly corporations are looking at the bottom line on business side of the equation, but when they are looking to relocate executives from other parts of the country, it just provides a comfort level that we have amenities here that are offered in larger cities in the U.S.”
The Trace is currently undergoing a $1.7 million extension that will connect it to downtown Hattiesburg and also to the Hattiesburg Zoo, one of two zoos in the state.
Herlon Pierce, who has managed the Longleaf Trace for more than a decade, said, “We‘re going into our 12th year of operation. Last year we probably had somewhere around 80,000 uses on the trail … and 3,000 to 5,000 of those uses were from out of state.”
Serious cyclists tell Pierce the Trace, which ranks in the top 25 for Rails to Trails projects nationwide, is one of the best in the country.
“A lot of people come here, and they’ll spend a week. … We know that the trail is producing an economic impact through a number of businesses, like restaurants and hotels,” he said.
Trace maintenance is funded through about $300,000 a year garnered through a tax of one-fourth mill levied on the recreational district comprising three counties and four municipal areas that benefit from the Trace. Grants also help.
James Moore, who has owned Moore’s Bicycle Shop since 1984, said the Long Leaf Trace has had an enormous impact on his business, which doubled after the Trace opened in 2000 and his store relocated.
Moore increased his square footage from 1,400 to 6,000 square feet and doubled his staff. Most of his customers are first-time cyclists.
The 14-mile city of Ridgeland trails are also well-used, especially by the city’s mayor, Gene McGee. The self-dubbed “cycling mayor” bikes about 150 miles per week and has logged almost 5,000 miles this year.
McGee says trail events, like the Heatwave Classic Triathlon and the Natchez Trace Century Ride, attract money to the area.
The trails “bring a large number of individuals to our city to participate in different events … They come and shop and buy gas and eat here. It definitely benefits the economy as well as businesses, and residents want to relocate in a place with quality of life features,” he said.
The Ridgeland Trails cost a total of $6.1 million, $1.5 million of which was invested by the city. A new $100,000 grant from the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks will be used to add a pavilion and restrooms near the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Future plans will take the trails all the way to Clinton.