Trail of tales

Published 12:07 am Friday, April 8, 2011

ERIC J. SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Dr. Ralph Vicero stops to take a look at one of the markers along the Natchez Trails at the intersection of North Canal and Jefferson streets Thursday afternoon in Natchez. At top, a horse-drawn carriage filled with tourists passes by the new trails marker at the intersection of Pearl and High streets.

NATCHEZ — Locals used to passing historic structures and big, beautiful houses every day might soon become subject to rubbernecking like tourists to catch a glimpse of the latest addition of the Natchez Trails Project.

A handful of historic panels have started to pop up on a few downtown street corners — more evidence of the trails coming to life.

City Engineer David Gardner said 53 panels will be installed well within the project’s preset completion date of June 22.

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The panels, which include historical information at each specific site, are currently being installed on the downtown, nature and bluff trails.

“We tried to create sort of a museum of the streets,” Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said.

In addition, the walking trail will trigger more tourist foot traffic in front of downtown storefronts and restaurants, which will hopefully boost business.

Miller said the historic panel committee tried to place the panels near every site that is free to visit or open to the public for tours, such as churches, museums and plantation homes.

Gardner said cast-bronze Native American inspired arrows will be placed in the sidewalks along the trail to point people in the trail’s direction.

New sidewalks were already added along High Street as part of the trails and more will be installed, Gardner said.

Gardner said they took their research to the streets to pick the locations for the markers.

“We spent several days walking the route,” he said.

The historic panel committee included Natchez National Park Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins, Forks in the Road director Ser Sesh ab-Heter C.M. Boxley, Historic Jefferson College’s Anne MacNeil, Joe Frank and Robin Person.

All of the work by the committee has been voluntary, Miller said.

Volunteerism has been a recurring theme of the trails project in general, especially from the Community Alliance, Gardner said.

Miller said if community members find errors in the panels to contact the Historic Natchez Foundation or City Hall.

“We don’t think it’s perfect, but nobody in Mississippi has ever done (historic paneling) before,” she said.

The panels are also wheelchair accessible, which is why they are low to the ground.

Gardner said the lights installed on the bluff were also intentionally built low to the ground in order to light the sidewalk and panels but avoid detracting from the river view.

An introductory base for the trails will be at the kiosk outside of the Cock of the Walk. The wooden kiosk frame will soon be covered with terracotta clay to match the old train depot.

Phase one includes four trails with color-coded names for the purpose of the guided tour. The north downtown trail will be red, the south downtown trail will blue, the bluff trail will be yellow and the nature trail will be green.

The bluff trail will run along the bluff from Madison Street to Orleans Street.

The nature trail runs between the river and bluff from the area near Madison Street to Roth Hill, and picks back up on the other side of Roth Hill to Silver Street.

Two wooden staircases will eventually connect the nature and bluff trails near Madison and Silver streets.

“Overall, we are about 85 percent finished, Gardner said.

Gardner said the trails are truly a group effort of several entities and individuals.

“If there ever was a community project, this is one,” Gardner said.