Trails to officially open

Published 12:10 am Thursday, June 2, 2011

NATCHEZ — Though some citizens have already walked the Natchez Trails, city officials plan to officially celebrate their opening with the public at 10 a.m. Saturday on Broadway Street at the gazebo.

The city plans to honor the donors who made the construction possible, including the Mississippi Department of Transportation, companies and citizens.

About 200 people comprise the invite list the city sent out, and invitees mainly include donors, who may attend a VIP brunch at 11 a.m. following the ceremony — the brunch is invitation-only, but the ceremony is open to everyone.

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Phase one of the construction is about 95 percent complete, and though City Engineer David Gardner said he hoped the construction would be completed by the time of the ribbon cutting, it only made sense to go ahead with the event as planned, he said.

“We wanted to do it in conjunction with National Trails Day, which is Saturday,” Gardner said. “For the most part (the construction is) sufficient enough for people to really see what the trail is and enjoy it as though it were 100 percent complete.”

The city also wanted to beat rising temperatures.

“We didn’t want it to be too hot, so we were trying to pick a day that wouldn’t be in the dead heat of the summer,” Gardner said.

MDOT awarded an enhancement grant in the amount of nearly $2 million, he said, while the Community Alliance donated almost $400,000 and the city itself raised about $390,000 to match grants received and enable obtaining a contract.

Costs for phase one of the project have totaled about $1.8 million so far, and further costs should total another $800,000. Costs include professional fees, architectural fees and basic materials, Gardner said.

Panels containing historical information mark key points on the trail, which begins at the bluff and wraps through the downtown area.

Four trails with color-coded names help guide the trails’ visitors; 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, and they are included in phase one..

“Several (historic locations) determined the route of the tour,” Historic Natchez Foundation Director Mimi Miller said. “It was done partially to make sure we took the trails past every site that’s open to the public.”

The idea is that by bringing these sites to attention, the public will be more likely to visit them and generate more money for the city, she said.

Soon, pamphlets for tourists will include information about the trails.

“I’m amazed how many tourists seem to be finding (the trail) even before (the advertising begins),” Miller said. “The public seems to be finding it and telling friends, and we’ve had some people say they’ve come just to walk it.”

The city made some mistakes in the plaques marking the trails, she said, but they won’t be fixed immediately so that the public has plenty of time to bring other errors to their attention.

Construction of a set of wooden steps that will connect the nature and bluff trails will begin sometime next week, Gardner said, and some of the sidewalk that leads to the steps has already been poured.

“We hoped to get them in before the ribbon cutting, but contractually we’re still under construction,” he said.

Entering phase two depends on the completion date of phase one, Gardner said, but it’s not absolute that phase one must be completed before beginning the second.

“We’re just excited about this milestone … we encourage people to walk the trails and experience it and read the historical panels and just enjoy it,” he said.