/Blazing a museum-to-market trail in Jackson

Blazing a museum-to-market trail in Jackson

This is the weekly ‘Sip of Culture. It’s a partnership between Mississippi Today Magazine and The Sip Magazine. Visit The Sip’s website to see more stories like these and to subscribe to the ‘Sip. Hidden behind trees at the intersection Moody Street/Greymont Avenue is a hidden gem for Jackson. Two old poles mark the entrance to a five-mile stretch of former railway that once held the GM&O Railroad. Although only the gravel slag is still there, Jackson residents are pursuing a dream to make it an urban oasis for runners, walkers and cyclists. David Pharr, a Jackson attorney, said that he used to run along the railway as a Millsaps College student in the ’90s. It’s beautiful. It has been covered by trees and bushes since its inception. The Capitol building is visible from the Capitol in winter. Clay Hays, a Jackson cardiologist, and Pharr discussed running and cycling on Ridgeland’s multi-use trail and the possibility of creating one in Jackson. Pharr stated that they first noticed trails developing in the surrounding suburbs of the city and that a doughnut was being formed. “We wanted to get the first Jackson trail, and in my observation Jackson didn’t have one, because they never asked for it.” Pharr and Hays set out to fulfill their dream of creating a trail. They received a $1.1million federal grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation in 2011 to build what is now known as the Museum Trail. They formed the Regional Trails Committee under the Vision 2022 umbrella, which is a comprehensive plan to grow in many areas, including arts and culture, economic development, health, research, and education. Match funds have been provided by private donors, as well as BlueCross/Blue Shield of Mississippi and the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership. They have also worked closely with the City of Jackson to maintain the trail after it is completed. Dick Hall, MDOT’s Central District Transport Commissioner said that he thinks it is a great project and well-used funds. “This money is not meant to be used to fix a hole in the road. This money is specifically set aside for local governments to be used for transportation projects that are not on the highway.” The trail, which will cover five miles, will start at Lakeland Drive at Mississippi Agriculture Museum and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. It will continue along Riverside Drive in front of Mississippi Children’s Museum & Natural Science Museum. The trail will cross Interstate 55 at Waterworks Curve, pick up at the former railroad and continue to the Belhaven Heights and Belhaven Heights neighborhoods before reaching the High Street Farmers’ Market. Hays stated that there will be entry points all along the trail. The committee anticipates that the trail will open in late 2017. Although work is ongoing, it is not possible to use the trail until a bridge is repaired and a water main is moved. On Aug. 30, the City of Jackson will post a request for bids to move the water main line. Construction of the trail is scheduled to begin in spring 2017 once it has been completed. The Regional Trail Committee hopes to eventually link the city and its suburbs via a network trail system. Pharr stated that Jackson’s museums are already a significant part of the city and are currently working. A trail and eventually a trail network could help to take this momentum further. These trails are similar to the modern park. It creates community.” Pharr stated that studies have shown that 20 percent of those who live within three-miles of a trail experienced an increase in exercise following its construction. People are healthier when they have these trails. Studies have shown that multi-use trails can increase home values by $10,000. Many trail organizers from other cities also report an economic boost. Hays stated that bike shops and restaurants are two of the first things that come to mind when thinking about the future of this trail. “But this place is the perfect spot for 5K races or things of that nature.” CrossFit 601 South co-owner Sean Cupit is optimistic about that kind of phenomenon after the trail is constructed. He said that although most of the workouts don’t involve long runs, he believes the trail will attract more people to the gym and benefit those who enjoy running. “It’s going attract people already interested getting fit, so that’ll be a tremendous advantage.” The Jxn Trailblazers community group has held clean-up days in spring and winter to remove overgrown leaves and to pick up trash. Pharr stated that one of the greatest things about this project has been to see groups work together to accomplish it. Since we started this project, we’ve had three mayors and they have all been supportive. Hays stated that he now views the city through the lense of trail building. He said, “I cannot help it.” When I drive around the city, I think about how we might build an overpass across busy streets or use an old sidewalk to make a route. I’m a self-proclaimed trail nerd.” Additional Trail Info: To see a map of current and proposed bike and pedestrian trails, visit http://gis.cmpdd.org/transportation/Bikeways and http://www.cmpdd.org/maps. To join Jxn Trailblazers or to find out about clean up days, visit http://jxntrailblazers.com.