Tucked behind some trees at the intersection of Moody Street and Greymont Avenue lies a diamond in the rough for the city of Jackson. Two old poles mark the unassuming entrance to a five-mile strip of former railway that once carried the GM&O Railroad. Only the gravel slag remains, but some Jackson residents have been chasing a dream of turning it into an urban oasis for walkers, runners and cyclists.
“I used to run along the railway when I was a student at Millsaps College back in the ’90s,” said Jackson attorney David Pharr. “It’s a beautiful place. It’s always been canopied by trees and bushes but even more so now that trains no longer run. In the winter, there’s a perfect view of the Capitol building that you can’t see through the leaves the rest of the year.”
While serving on the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership in the early 2000s, Pharr and Jackson cardiologist Clay Hays talked about running and cycling on the multi-use trail in Ridgeland and wanting to create one in Jackson.
“We initially observed the trails were developing in the suburbs around the city, and a doughnut was forming,” Pharr said. “We really wanted to get the first trail in Jackson, and in my observation, Jackson didn’t have one because they never asked for one.”
With the former railway in mind, Pharr and Hays took on the challenge to bring their dream of a trail to life. In 2011, they received a $1.1 million federal grant through the Mississippi Department of Transportation to create what has been dubbed the Museum Trail. Under the umbrella of Vision 2022, a broad-sweeping plan for growth in a wide range of areas including economic development, arts and culture, education, health and research, they formed the Regional Trails Committee. Private donors as well as BlueCross/Blue Shield of Mississippi, the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership and Jackson Heart Clinic have helped match funds. The group has also been working closely with the City of Jackson, which will maintain the trail once it is built.
“I think it’s a very nice project and extremely well-used funds,” said MDOT’s Central District Transportation Commissioner Dick Hall. “I want to emphasize that this is not money we could use to fill a pothole. This is specially set aside for local governments to use for transportation projects other than those on the highway.”
The five-mile trail will begin at Lakeland Drive at the Mississippi Agriculture Museum and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and will run along Riverside Drive in front of the Mississippi Children’s Museum and Natural Science Museum. The trail will run under Interstate 55 at Waterworks Curve and pick up at the former railroad, backing up to the Belhaven and Belhaven Heights neighborhoods, ending at the High Street Farmers’ Market.
“There will be entrance points throughout the trail,” Hays said.
The committee expects a late 2017 opening and, although work is underway, the trail is not usable until a bridge can be repaired and a water main line is moved. The City of Jackson will advertise for bids for the water line on Aug. 30. Once completed, trail construction is expected to begin spring 2017. The Regional Trail Committee plans to eventually connect the city and suburbs through a network of trails.
“The museums are already a great part of Jackson that are working, and something like a trail, and eventually a trail system, could take this momentum to the next level of success,” Pharr said. “These trails are like the modern park. It builds community.”
“We’ve seen studies that show 20 percent of people who live within three miles of a trail reported an increase in exercise after the trail was built,” Pharr said. “Where you build these trails, people get healthier. We’ve also read studies that show an increase of $10,000 in home value for homes in communities with multi-use trails.”
Many trail organizers in other cities report an added economic boost.
“Bike shops and restaurants immediately come to mind when I think of the future for this trail,” Hays said. “But this is the perfect place for 5K races and things of that nature.”
Sean Cupit, co-owner of CrossFit 601 South, is hopeful for that type of phenomenon once the trail is built.
“Most of the workouts here don’t include long runs, but I really do think the more traffic on that trail will be great for us and for our members who do like to run,” he said. “It’s going to attract people already interested in getting fit, so it’ll be a tremendous benefit.”
A community organization called the Jxn Trailblazers has hosted clean up days in the spring and winter to clear overgrown foliage and pick up trash.
“One of the great things has been seeing groups working together to get this done,” Pharr said. “We’ve been through three mayors since we started this, and all have been supportive. We’ve been working for years to turn this old rail bed into a gem for the city.”
Hays said that he now sees the city through the lens of trail making.
“I can’t help it,” he said. “When I’m driving around the city, I imagine how we could build an overpass across a busy street or how we could use an old sidewalk as a route. I’m a self-proclaimed trail nerd.”
Additional Trail Info:
To see a map of current and proposed bike and pedestrian trails, visit http://gis.cmpdd.org/transportation/Bikeways and http://www.cmpdd.org/maps.
To join Jxn Trailblazers or to find out about clean up days, visit http://jxntrailblazers.com.