May 26, 2005
Last week I was excited to be back in Mississippi opening a road already hundreds of years old but which took six decades to pave. Thanks to almost $72 million in federal funding received over the past five years, the Natchez Trace is finally a completed, modern road, all the way from Nashville to Natchez.
In 1999 I asked the National Park Service to fund completion of the Trace's then-still unpaved section between Clinton and Ridgeland. Of course, Congress had decided to preserve the historic Trace back in the 1930s by turning the centuries-old footpath into a national parkway. Yet, for various reasons, some sections remained unpaved and unnavigable for years. Now it's a seamless road that will draw even more attention to America's natural beauty and rich history.
One thing that's always fascinated me about the Trace is that though it takes a rather odd diagonal tract across Mississippi, ironically it intersects just about every slice of American history and culture. When we're on the Trace, we literally walk in the footsteps of great Americans of virtually every period and background.
Long before the first Europeans came to America, the Natchez Indians had an advanced civilization near the Trace. Emerald Mound, once the center of their culture, can still be seen near the Trace's southern terminus.
The great general and great President, Andrew Jackson, was a regular traveler along the Trace. He was married in a home near the Trace which still stands today. Meriweather Lewis, President Thomas Jefferson's personal secretary and leader of the famed Lewis and Clark expedition, was mysteriously killed along the Trace.
Entering Mississippi, Trace travelers can get off to see the Corinth and nearby Shiloh national battlefields which played key roles in the War Between the States. Or, they can stop at Tupelo and see the Trace Visitors Center, the Tupelo Automobile Museum and, of course, Elvis Presley's birthplace. And they can learn about our almost forgotten history, like the nearby Battle of Ackia where in 1736 – well before the American Revolution – Bienville, the French nobleman who founded Biloxi, Mobile and New Orleans, and his force was defeated by allied Chickasaw warriors and English soldiers.
Further south in Ridgeland, near the Trace, is the site of the signing of the Treaty of Doak's Stand. It led to the settlement of Central Mississippi and to the establishment of Jackson as Mississippi's capital city because of its proximity to the Trace. Thanks to the final construction, visitors to the Trace don't have to get off at Ridgeland but can proceed directly to Clinton where they'll find a brand new visitor's center. Here, too, American history is rich and diverse. In fact, just off the Trace, Mississippi's first university, Mississippi College, can be found. Established in 1826, it was the first American co-educational institution granting a degree to a woman.
The Trace continues around historic Civil War sites like Raymond and nearby Utica, where visitors can see the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, dedicated to the very significant but often overlooked role that the Jewish people played in developingMississippi. On the home stretch toward Natchez, folks can view what's left of Rocky Springs, now a quaint ghost town, or see pieces of the original, unpaved Trace cut deep within the soil by centuries of foot traffic. Nearby is Alcorn State University, one of America's first African-American colleges, started by America's first African-American U.S. Senator – Hiram R. Revels of Mississippi. And, of course, the Trace ends in Natchez which already draws many visitors in its own right.
Perhaps the most fitting testimonial I've heard to the Trace's natural and historic value comes from Michael Eisner, who as CEO of the Walt Disney Company, is unimpressed by just any run-of-the-mill tourist trap. He biked down the trace from Jackson to Natchez, and every time I've see him since that experience, he always mentions the Natchez Trace and what a well-kept secret it is. He's right, but the Natchez Trace ought not be a secret. It's now fully accessible and waiting for us all to discover. To truly understand America, we should all trod the Trace. (5/26/05)
Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office)
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Odd... Usually, very often, I find myself at odds with at least one statement of Lott's. For once, I'm in 100% agreement.
The Trace is one of my FAVORITE things about Mississippi and every time a visitor comes from out of state or town, I take them south to Rocky Springs or north to the cypress swamps.
I've personally wanted to spend a weekend cycling the Trace and camping. I'd LOVE to camp around Emerald Mound. Awesome experience to be there and I'm sure would be ethereal at twilight.
It's Friday afternoon, and Knol just found common ground with Senator Lott - DRINK!
Also note that Lott helped broken the deal that stopped the nuclear B.S. in Washington so far. He's probably smart enough to figure out that would/will be a mistake that the right will grow to regret down the road.
It's been a while since I've been on the trace, I'll definitely have to take a trip on it again soon.
I traveled the new section yesterday. I am disappointed that there are no wide shoulders for bicycle traffic. Not even an extra couple of feet past the outside traffic stripe. Ultimately, I would like to see a 10' wide stand-alone mixed-use trail near the right-of-way line. Check out these beautiful trails: http://www.pinellastrail.com/photos.html
Steph, I agree... As it is, the Natchez Trace is already pretty ped/cycle/horse friendly. No one really takes the Trace to get somewhere fast. ;-)
Either way, that's an excellent idea. If this tiny strip of paving took this long, can you imagine how long it'd take them to add a cycle/ped/horse lane? We'd be in wheelchairs and walkers by the time they completed it and people will be driving cars that operate off magnetic fields. ;-)