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Success of trails depends on planning

If you haven’t ventured out to the Natchez bluffs lately, you may be missing the birth of something truly unique.

The Natchez Trails Project, begun several years ago, is quickly nearing the completion of its first phase.

The trails, a project of the City of Natchez with private funding funneled through the Natchez Community Alliance, begins to take full advantage of Natchez’s most unique feature — its location sitting high over the Mississippi River.

The first phase constructed new paths along the top of the bluff, below the bluff and replaced the fencing along the bluff. In addition, a “museum of the streets” is being put up with informational panels throughout downtown, giving visitors bits of history as they walk.

On Saturday, Julie and I took the dogs for a brief walk along the bluff trail — which is paved — and the nature trail that runs beneath the bluffs and is covered with crushed limestone rock.

As we walked along, it was interesting, not just because we were able to enjoy the beautiful weather and the gorgeous views of the river, but seeing visitors enjoying the bluff, too.

As we walked, we saw people from all walks of life, young, old, black and white.

Each was out enjoying the day in a different way.

A young father reclined on a bench positioned in the shade as his infant snoozed in a stroller nearby. A middle-aged couple strolled along with their little dog.

A young couple walked together, holding hands.

At the foot of Roth Hill, a young man was running — yes, running — repeatedly up and down the hill.

On the return trip to the car, we stopped and briefly talked to a couple seated on a bench enjoying the day. The couple was from Destrehan, La., and said they’ve come to Natchez before and “just love” the town. Both husband and wife said the trails — even though they’re not complete yet — are a great addition to Natchez.

As we headed back to the car, it occurred to me just how much of a focal point the bluffs and the trails could be, if our community embraced them as an amazing destination, for both tourists and visitors alike.

If we don’t already have a plan for fully utilizing the trails, we need to be thinking about that soon.

Maintenance will need to be top-notch. Someone needs to be assigned to run a leaf blower regularly along the paths, pick up trash and keep vegetation trimmed properly.

Beyond that though, wouldn’t it be nice if the trails were regularly walked by locals, willing to greet visitors and help answer any questions about Natchez?

Or what if, particularly during high-visitor times such as Pilgrimage, more family-friendly events were held on the bluffs?

The bluffs are uniquely Natchez and no one other place in the world has that amazing feature.

For literally decades, the bluffs have been a Natchez feature that cuts through all of the other things that divide us — wealth, race, background, etc.

It’s up to us to take full advantage of the bluffs, both for the quality of life of our residents, but also the attraction and enjoyment of visitors, too.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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