Trail of the Month
|A group ride starts from the Gateway Southern
Miss facilities at the Hattiesburg end of the trail
(Photo: Longleaf Trace).|
At 41 miles, the Longleaf Trace is the longest
rail-trail in the south central United States,
connecting Mississippi's third-largest city,
Hattiesburg, with the timber town of Prentiss to the
northwest. Most of the trail - more than 39 miles
beginning just west of Hattiesburg - opened on Labor Day
2000 along with a 26-mile equestrian trail paralleling
the Trace. Recently, a two-mile stretch was constructed
that brings the trail to the University of Southern
Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg.
asphalt, the trail cuts through the heart of Piney Woods
country, named for the vast forests of longleaf and
slash pine that once crowned the low hills between
Jackson, Miss., and the Gulf Coast. As trail users pedal
along, evergreens dominate the scenery. Flanking the
straight-aways and sweeping turns, their top branches
reach 50 feet or more above the ground. At rhythmic
intervals the trees recede, revealing a savannah of
deep-green rye grass dotted with tan hay bales, a cow or
two and an occasional long gravel driveway ending at the
carport of a well-tended brick farmhouse.
Trace winds through small farm towns such as Bassfield,
where a general store stocks washboards and canning
supplies and sells eggs and produce from nearby truck
gardens. The scenery changes subtly in Prentiss. The
trail drapes across the broad, sandy Jaybird Creek
hugged by a dense forest of hardwood trees. Climbing
from the creek bottom into Prentiss may leave bicyclists
huffing and puffing, just as freight trains running this
route years ago struggled to make the grade.
Even before it opened, the Trace was a hit. Jim
Moore, a Hattiesburg bicycle shop owner who helped
mobilize support for the trail, notes, "We couldn't keep
people off of it while we were building it."
Trail manager Herlon Pierce confirms the trail's
appeal. "One morning I counted nearly 100 people on the
trail in just a few hours. And the trail wasn't even
open yet." One of the charms of the Trace, says Pierce,
is how little this Mississippi territory has changed
over the years. While Biloxi to the south was founded
300 years ago and Natchez to the east had more
millionaires per capita than any southern city in the
early 19th century, the Piney Woods remained wild and
sparsely settled well after the Civil War.
development of the Trace was assisted immeasurably by
the railbanking provision that was added to the National
Trails System Act in 1983, which allows for interim
trails use on railroad corridors and preserves the
corridor for possible rail use in the future. In
addition, the Trace also benefited immensely from the
creation in 1994 of the Pearl to Leaf Rivers
Rails-to-Trails Recreational District, which is managed
by a local board of directors and is responsible today
for managing and maintaining the trail.
Longleaf Trace continues to grow - work is underway to
extend the trail into downtown Hattiesburg - local
residents' enthusiasm for the trail remains high. As
Moore says, "When I see families using the trail,
teaching younger children to bicycle or just strolling
along looking at the trees and the birds, that is when I
feel the best about what we have done here with the
If you would like your local rail-trail
to be profiled as a Trail of the Month, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your Trail of the Month essay should include 500-600
words on the rail-trail's unique features, the history
of its development and the history of the former rail
corridor. Also include at least five good photos
highlighting trail users, special features on the
rail-trail and interesting scenery. All submissions are
subject to editing by RTC communications staff.
||A hand-crank cycle user and
friend on the Trace (Photo: Longleaf
||Two friends take a break on a
nearby park bench of the Trace (Photo: Longleaf
||A signpost every mile
indicates the sponsor of that segment of the Trace
(Photo: Longleaf Trace).|
Trail of the
for our featured trails from past months!
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Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, 1100
17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20036