HOUSTON – The whistles will blow Sunday afternoon and the Tanglefoot Trail will officially open for Houston, Houlka and points north.
The old railroad bed of the former GM&O railroad has been turned into a bike and walking path after years of work by the communities located along the trail and Sunday's 30-minute ceremony begins at 1 p.m., and will see a silver spike carried north to ceremonies in Pontotoc.
“A lot of people have worked very hard for this day,” said Joyce East, Executive Director of the Chickasaw Development Foundation and Tanglefoot Trail board member. “This community is very excited about what the Trail will bring to Houston, Houlka and all of Chickasaw County. This is a very big day for this community.”
East urged Houston residents to gather at the site of the proposed gateway south of U.S. Highway 8 with parking accessible from Church Street. Houlka's ceremony will be held at the Whistlestop adjacent to Highway 32 at 2:15 p.m.
Rick Huffman will be the “Conductor” for both events and will keep the speakers on a tight railroad schedule. Both ceremonies will last 30 minutes.
Supervisor Anderson McFarland, Mayor Stacey Parker, Trail Director Don Locke, historian Cara Chisolm, Representative Preston Sullivan and Senator Russell Jolly will speak in Houston. Rev. Levon Kinard will give the invocation.
At 1:30 sharp, Lee Nabors, a Tanglefoot Trail Board member, and local cyclists will carry a silver spike to Houlka.
“There is a silver spike headed south from New Albany on the north end of the trail and we will start a silver spike headed north and that is the reason for the tight schedule,” said East. “We do have a lot of speakers, a little entertainment and we also have some gifts for kids that attend.”
In Houlka, supervisors Russell Brooks and Jerry Hall, Mayor Jimmy Kelly, Tanglefoot board member Janie Tutor and historian Tom Hood will speak. The Rev. David Blackwell will give the invocation.
The spike will then leave for Algoma and ultimately Pontotoc.
“The Trail has already brought hundreds of people to our community and that number will only continue to grow,” said East. “The trail is bringing tourism dollars to Houston and Houlka and there are a lot of local people who are also using the trail.”
East smiled when she said she has bought a bike and is cycling the trail on a regular basis.
“I was really surprised by the number of people I saw on the trail,” said East. “The scenery is great and it's so peaceful and quiet. The Trail is going to mean so much to this community for years to come.”
Tanglefoot Trail has an estimated 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 will be built -- complete with parking, restrooms, historic displays and information -- in Houston, Pontotoc and New Albany.
The project is partially funded by a $9.6 million federal Transportation Enhancement grant administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Other funding includes $350,000 in state money and a $100,000 trails grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks.
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.