Saturday, September 12, 2015

Bicycle/walking trail opens in rural Stone Co., MS

The ribbon cutting at the opening of the Old Wire Road Trail in Stone County, Mississippi
       The Old Wire Road Trail, a paved bicycle/walking trail in rural Stone Co., Mississippi is now open.  Looking like a black asphalt sidewalk six and a half miles long and six feet wide, the $1 million trail parallels E. Wire Rd., undulating gently through the low rolling hills of this sparsely populated Piney Woods county about 30 miles north of Gulfport, MS.
         Draped on a ridge separating the Red Creek and Tuxachanie Creek watersheds, the trail looks like it was built in the middle of nowhere; open fields and pine forests dotted with widely-spaced housing as far as the eye can see.  When the trail comes to Evans Rd. in the west and O'Neal Rd. in the east, the pavement just stops.  No parking lot, water fountains or restrooms like fancy multi-million dollar rails- to-trails conversions in the region such as the 28-mile Tammany Trace to the west in Louisiana or the 39-mile Longleaf Trace with its eastern terminus in Hattiesburg, MS, 30 miles to the north.
       While few "serious" cyclists, capable of ripping along at 18-20 miles an hour, hour after hour, would consider the Old Wire Road Trail a "destination trail" like the Longleaf Trace or Tammany Trace trails, residents with property fronting the trail pushed for nearly six years to have it built.  It is not in the middle of nowhere to them.  They know exactly where it is.  For many of them it runs through their front yards.
       Speaking at a ribbon cutting ceremony to open the trail, September 5, 2015, Stone Co. Board of Supervisors president, Scott Strickland spoke to a crowd of about 40 of the county's residents, thanking property owners for agreeing to easements permitting the trail to cross their property eliminating the expense of having to purchase land for the trail.
       The ceremony was held where Wire Road, City Road and Sunflower Road come together.  Some in the crowd standing under a bright late morning summer sun held bicycles and were dressed ready to ride.  Others patiently waited for the speeches to end before quickly retiring to the nearby air conditioned community center to refresh with bottled energy drinks and store-bought brownies.
       Jon Bond, the county's engineer, said after the ceremony, he hoped the trail would become a catalyst, spurring development of projects to take advantage of a growing interest in the county as a destination for "eco-tourism."  One example would be to extend the trail nearer to Ramsey Springs, fronting Red Creek, considered by many to be the best canoe camping creek in the Southeast.  Last year the state of Mississippi acquired about 56 acres, some of it fronting Red Creek, at Ramsey Springs.  The county paved a simple concrete boat launch at the site, but since then there has been little other development.   Bond, an advocate for outdoor recreation in the county, said the property, upriver from where highway MS 15 crosses the creek, would be ideal for a nature trail.
       Paddlers can also access Red Creek from the highway right-of-ways at MS 26 west of Wiggins, where there is a concrete boat launch, US 49 at Perkinston and where City Bridge Rd. crosses the creek at a small park with a concrete boat launch and a parking lot.
       Bond, told the crowd the trail commemorates the first telegraph line to link New York with New Orleans, then the largest city in the South.  Strung from pine trees in 1846, the line linked the Atlantic Coast with the Gulf Coast via Pensacola, FL.  This vital communications link remained active until 1870 when a railroad was completed from New Orleans to Pensacola.  Commemorative plaques along the trail explain the telegraph line and its importance.
          Before the telegraph was perfected in the early 1840's, long distance communication was primitive.  Messages to distant cities were carried by post riders on horseback in relays meaning that even in the best of circumstances, a message from New Orleans to New York could take weeks to be delivered.   A telegram sent over the same distance required only a few minutes to send, Bond said.
        Jamie Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, told the crowd that the history of the telegraph through Stone County (in 1849 part of Harrison County) is a nationally significant story and that the trail will help tell it to residents and visitors.  The DMR administers the Coastal Impact Assistance Program which provided the funding for the bicycling/walking trail.
          The trail parallels E. Wire Road but is north that highway's right-of-way. Park at the community center at the intersection of City Rd. and Wire Rd. as there is no parking along the trail or at either end.
         The light traffic and smooth surfaces make Stone County's back roads popular with bicyclists from the Mississippi Gulf Coast who train on the rolling terrain often.  Residents report seeing cyclists, many in red Gulf Coast Bicycle Club (GCBC) jerseys, speeding in tight packs hunched over their handlebars in full tuck to take advantage of the wind shelter a pace line provides.
         The area is a part of an annual rite of fall for recreational bicyclists.   Sunday, October 4, 2015, The GCBC will hold the Southern Magnolia 100, a bicycle ride that attracts riders from across the Gulf South.   Riders start from the Woolmarket neighborhood of Biloxi early in the morning choosing one of five distances--from 11 to 100 miles.  The two longest rides come into Stone County; the 100 mile ride, aka "century," and the metric century, 62 miles.  Volunteers set up rest stops to provide riders with snacks and fluids.  While the event is not a real race, (the route is open to traffic and riders share the road with motorized traffic), the fastest riders, often riding light weight bikes not too different from the bicycles professional bicycle use, compete for bragging rights by trying to finish the 100 miles in five hours or less.  But most will take longer.
        A few miles south of the Old Wire Road Trail, a route linking back roads from San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL, has been used by bicycle tourists for more than a two decades.  The 3,000 mile Southern Tier route, mapped by Adventure Cycling, a non-profit that has been developing long distance bicycle routes since 1976 when it was known as BikeCentennial, passes through the De Soto National Forest.  The route is popular with cyclists looking for a challenge when it is too cold to ride in the rest of the country.  Some speedy, well-heeled riders make the trip eating all meals out and sleeping in hotels, motels or bed and breakfast inns to save the hassle of pitching tents and cooking meals.  But most travelers on the route are self-contained; hauling all camping and cooking gear on their bicycles or in lightweight trailers attached to the rear wheel.  The trip from coast to coast takes from six to 10 weeks.


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