Trace heads home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2001

Piles of bricks and rubble at Liberty Road near Lissie Street signal renewed hope that the Natchez Trace Parkway finally will lead into Natchez – or out of it, as purists would say.

&uot;We don’t use the word terminus,&uot; said City Attorney Walter Brown. &uot;Natchez is the beginning of the Trace, not the end.&uot;

Since the early 1900s, efforts have been ongoing to recreate the old footpath between Natchez and Nashville as a national parkway.

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For Natchez, however, the vision of having the Trace begin or end within the city limits remained a blurry, distant dream for more than half a century.

&uot;We are finally winding down to the last details,&uot; Brown said, describing the business of acquiring land along the four-mile stretch between U.S. 84 and Liberty Road.

&uot;I think in 30 to 60 days we’ll have everything out of the way and we can prepare one large deed to transfer all the property to the U.S. government.&uot;

The new Trace extension plans have not moved along without some sacrifice. Two ballfields will be lost, and, in the case of the 13- and 14-year-old Dixie Youth leagues, no one knows where they will play next season. Homes have been razed and families, moved. Other property has been given up for the parkway.

Stennis Young, chief of engineering and maintenance for the Natchez Trace Parkway, said preliminary plans are under way for the Washington-to-Natchez stretch so the park service will be ready to deal with contractors immediately after the transfer of land.

&uot;We won’t be ready to award contracts the next day, but it will be shortly after the land is transferred,&uot; Young said from his office in Tupelo, Trace headquarters. &uot;We will let contracts in 2002 and 2003 and probably start some of the work by the end of 2002.&uot;

Four miles seems a short distance, but the cost will be big, Young said. &uot;There will be about six bridges; and the interchange at Liberty Road is going to be a major one,&uot; he said.

The job will involve two contracts for two separate projects, one to take the Trace across St. Catherine Creek; the second, to continue on to Liberty Road.

Money for this final stretch into Natchez is not in hand, Young said. &uot;But it is committed for 2002 and 2003.&uot; The project will cost an estimated $20 to $25 million, he said.

That cost includes the final paving of the new but unopened four-mile stretch linking the present Trace entry and exit on U.S. 61 North with U.S. 84.

Liberty Road will be redesigned at the interchange, Young said. A bridge will pass over Liberty Road and curve around to take traffic onto the road in either direction.

&uot;We want it to look very nice, with the typical Natchez Trace features,&uot; Young said.

Long-range plans for many years have been to bring the Trace into Natchez along the path of the Illinois Central Railroad track from Liberty Road on to the Mississippi River bluff area near the Visitors Reception Center on Canal Street.

&uot;That is still the hope and the dream for the Trace,&uot; Young said. &uot;This alignment on Liberty Road is designed to enhance the possibility of that dream when the time comes. That’s what we’re all hoping for someday.&uot;

Brown said the official city position agrees with that path, also. &uot;We’ll keep pushing for it, and it will take a lot of push.&uot;

The completion of the Trace into Natchez should coincide with the only other remaining area where construction is under way, Young said.

&uot;We’re still working on the area around Jackson, and we hope that work will wind up about the same time as Natchez. We hope it will all come together at the same time.&uot;

In the early 1900s, a push began to improve the old road for increased traffic and to make it a &uot;national&uot; highway.

By the 1930s, the increased effort to create a Natchez Trace Parkway grew with a boost from Mississippi political, business and social leaders.

In 1938, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the legislation to establish officially the Natchez Trace Parkway.

News items at the time predicted the Trace, comprising 450 miles, would be completed within five to six years.

As it turns out, the completion instead will be nearly 70 years later and some 200 years after President Thomas Jefferson signed an order to make improvements on the old Trace in the early 1800s.