Trails project looks at Natchez in a new way

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2006

Anyone driving through Natchez is struck by the number of antebellum homes, the quiet streets, the beautiful trees and plants.

But we all know you can&8217;t truly appreciate Natchez unless you are on foot.

Even in the middle of winter, a walk through downtown shows activity &8212; new businesses under way and buildings under renovation.

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But amid all of that new activity, we still have our ties to the past &8212; and that link has always been the key to our tourism efforts.

Tourism advocates and outside consultants have long been pushing for new ideas for one of the city&8217;s biggest industries. Living history tours, ghost tours and a greater emphasis on African-American history have been a few of the ways Natchez has taken to attract new visitors.

Now, a new project has the potential to allow visitors and residents to look at Natchez &8212; and tourism &8212; in a new way.

A &8220;museum of streets.&8221; Can you imagine a better description of downtown Natchez?

That phrase is one I recall hearing months ago at a meeting of Vision Natchez, and it&8217;s a phrase I heard again last week during a presentation about the Community Alliance project to raise money for a series of walking trails along the Mississippi River bluff and through downtown.

An Alliance committee is leading the project, and City Engineer David Gardner designed the plans.

The project would consist of two separate trails &8212; one through downtown and one along the bluffs.

But even those trails would have different routes. The bluff trail, for example, would have three routes along the top of the bluff, along the middle and along the riverbank.

Two other trails &8212; one between High and Main streets and another between Main and Washington streets &8212; would offer a self-guided tour of downtown.

Along the way would be kiosks describing the history, geology and archeology of Natchez, with brochures and information about the trails and about other local sites and attractions.

In addition to giving us a new attraction, the trails project would also promote a healthier way to tour the city &8212; for visitors and for locals. Anyone who has used the riverfront walking path in Vidalia knows how nice it is to have such a pretty spot for exercise. Similar trails in other communities have proven successful and have boosted the number of visitors in those towns.

The project has a price tag of up to $1.58 million, but the committee overseeing planning hopes to raise a majority of that through a Mississippi Department of Transportation grant.

The project has already received $25,000 from the Mississippi Delta Regional Initiative, a grant the Community Alliance received with the help of the National Park Service, Gardner said. An appropriations bill on the president&8217;s desk includes another $200,000 for the walking trails.

But Gardner said the committee is &8220;going to have to be real creative&8221; in using its funds and in raising new money for the project.

Trail organizers say they are going to need to raise another half-million from corporations, so they&8217;ll be knocking on doors such as Nike and Blue Cross and Blue Shield.

Such sponsorships could really open doors for this project &8212; and shine attention on our community in the process.

The walking trails project is a great way for tourists to see Natchez in a new way &8212; and for us to see tourism in a new light.

Kerry Whipple

Bean is editor of The Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3541 or by e-mail at