HOUSTON – The Tanglefoot Trail opened in October last year and while other communities along the trail have been quick to capitalize on the new tourism asset, Houston has not seen anything built to enhance the Trail.
Joyce East, Executive Director of the Chickasaw Development Foundation and Vice Chairman of the Tanglefoot Trail Board of Directors, spoke to the Houston Board of Aldermen last week saying Houston does lag behind other towns but efforts are being made to build a facility or gateway at the trailhead, develop signage and get people downtown to shop.
“We have been criticized for not doing anything and not having anything down there,” said East. “I do want to point out our trail doesn’t go through downtown like other communities and we have to do a lot more to improve our end of the trail.”
The 44.53-mile Tanglefoot Trail stretches from Houston north to New Albany. The construction was partially funded by a $9.6 million federal Transportation Enhancement grant administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Other funding included $350,000 in state money and a $100,000 trails grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks. Each community is also assessed a quarter of a mil in property taxes that helped finance and build the trail.
But the construction of the trail ended up costing more than anticipated and gateway buildings, included in the initial design, have been delayed.
New Albany is looking to build a trailhead plaza area for $227,000 that would include a trailhead arch, landscaping and lighting, seating areas, a small pavilion and arbors or trellises.
East said Houston initially looked at building a pavilion at the end of the trail. She also said some type of visitor’s center with offices and showers has been discussed. The exact location and cost of that facility has not been determined.
Currently the Houston trailhead consists of a gravel parking lot, trashcan and portable toilet.
“We all know how important the Trail is and our board is behind this,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker. “But it looks like everything starts from the north and comes south and we are the last in getting things.”
East pitched the idea of a fundraiser to build a gateway, but felt community support would hinge on a detailed plan.
Houston Street Superintendent Rico Nichols suggest the city – with the Trail board’s blessing – build concrete ramps off the Trail at the trestle over Highway 8 that would direct cyclist to businesses and restaurants on the highway and downtown.
East said there are Natchez Trace federal highway funds to connect the Trace to “nature trails” were available. She explained that constructing those “bike friendly” routes is expensive.
But again, how much and when those funds might be available was not stated.
Parker said in a meeting earlier this year that funding for a gateway did not look promising and Houston might want to consider building it themselves. That would require putting that project in the 2014-15 budget.
Parker said there have also been some misunderstandings about signage, maintenance and trail use.
Parker said the city would begin doing their part to help maintain the trail in the city limits. It was also said golf carts are allowed on the trail with a permit.
Parker offered to meet with the Tanglefoot Trail Board of Directors to see how Houston could speed up the process.
Lee Nabors, Houston’s representative on the Tanglefoot Trail Board of Directors, read a letter from a tourist from Canada who pointed out, while the Trail was beautiful, the trailhead in Houston was unsightly.
“People from all over the world come here to ride this trail and we need to come together and keep that area as clean as possible until we can get something down there,” said Nabors. “I would also like to point out there has been no major crime associated with the trail since it opened.”
East said the Mississippi Department of Transportation is putting up eight signs directing people to the Tanglefoot Trail.
The Tanglefoot Trail has a projected economic impact of as much as $4.8 million for Northeast Mississippi. Tanglefoot developers have said the trail could easily see up to 100,000 users each year.
The Tanglefoot Trail stretches 44.5-miles from New Albany to Houston and sports a 10-wide asphalt surface with maintained shoulders the length of the project. Whistle-stops have been constructed in Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma and Houlka. Gateways were designed in initial plans — complete with parking, restrooms, historic displays and information — for Houston, Pontotoc and New Albany.
Engineering Solutions of Pontotoc is the project engineer and Glasgow Construction of Guin, Ala., was awarded the construction contract. Three Rivers Planning and Development District serves as the administrative and fiscal agent for the GM&O District.
For more information and the rules and regulations of the trail, visit www.tanglefoottrailms.com.