Trails project plans, panels revealed to public

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 3, 2010

NATCHEZ — After five years of hearing about the Natchez Trails Project, Mary Eidt had an opportunity to see it Tuesday night.

As she studied an aerial overview of the trails at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center, where historic exhibit panels for the project were officially unveiled, she offered her seal of approval.

“We’ve heard a lot about it, but we haven’t seen the actual route, so this is very exciting,” Eidt said. “We walk downtown, and we’re looking forward to using it.”

Eidt, along with about 75 other guests, viewed life-size printouts of selected panels that will eventually accent the trails when the first phase of construction is completed in spring 2011, City Engineer and Trails Project Chairman David Gardner said.

The Natchez Board of Aldermen earlier this month awarded a $1.6 million contract to Camo Construction Co. of Vidalia for the first phase of the project.

A $2.9 million venture, the first phase has been fully funded via government earmarks, grants and private contributions totaling $380,000, and includes 5.6 miles of trails along Broadway, High, Rankin, Washington and Martin Luther King Jr. streets.

“We hope to get final approval for (the Mississippi Department of Transportation) in the next two to three weeks,” Gardner said of first phase construction. Gardner expects to break ground this spring.

“The trails are an opportunity to learn about the history of the town in an exciting new way,” Gardner said.

The unveiling of the panels served as part of the Historic Natchez Foundation’s annual meeting, where several residents received awards for restoring properties.

Award recipients were: Robert and Stephanie Nelson; Gary and Pam Wood; the Harrington family; Cappy and Judy Stahlman; Charles and Billie Laird; Butch Thorpe; Cliff McCarstle and Kevin Smith; Bob Adams and John and Marcia McCullough.

Liz Dantone received the Mary Postlethwaithe Award for her work in organizing the traveling Smithsonian Institute exhibit, “Journey Stories.”

City Building Inspector Paul Dawes received the Miss Charlie Compton Preservation Award for his efforts to save Arlington.

Former Great Mississippi River Balloon Race Executive Director Laura Godfrey and current Executive Director Babs Price presented HNF Executive Director Mimi Miller with two checks in the amount of $10,000 and $6,213.

“We get to give money to the foundation. They’re our benefactors and that’s who we work for,” Godfrey said. “We did well this year.”

HNF Treasuer Dennis Switzer offered a brief financial report, saying the foundation’s license revenues have taken a serious hit.

In 2002, license revenues totaled $282,000. This past fiscal year, revenues were only $30,000.

“That’s about a drop of $20,000 a month,” Switzer said.

Newly elected HNF President Pat Biglane said the foundation is relying more on membership dues and community contributions, and has revamped its dues system.

HNF memberships dues are now $20 for students, $35 for senior citizens, $50 for individuals and $100 for families. Special donor levels, also called pillars of support, range from $500 to $10,000.

Pillars of Support donors are eligible for a 10 percent discount on HNF merchandise, balloon race weekend passes and other benefits.

“These pillars of support are very important to the foundation,” Biglane said. “We need your support, but we also want to give back to you for all the work you do.”