“LONGLEAF TRACE” BY Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to-Trails Recreational District



  The Longleaf Trace is governed by the Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to-Trails Recreational District Board of Directors as provided for by the Mississippi State Legislature, Section 55-25-1 et seq Mississippi Code of 1972 as annotated, which created authority for rails-to-trails recreational districts. The Board consists of members from the three counties and four cities/towns in which the trail traverses.



  The Longleaf Trace is Mississippi’s first and to date only Rails-to-Trails Conversion and Conservancy Project, and has recently received the honor  of being designated a “National Recreation Trail”.  It is located along the  abandoned 100 +/- foot rights-of-way of the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad. The Trace is asphalt surfaced, 10 to 14 foot wide, 40+ mile multi-  purpose recreational trail (biking, hiking, blading, jogging, walking, running and etc.) located in Southeast Mississippi that extends from Hattiesburg on its eastern end to Prentiss, Mississippi on its western end. An  equestrian trail, 23 miles in length, parallels the biking/hiking/blading trail along its middle portion. Since rail traffic was discontinued in the early  1980s, a tree canopy shades most of the trace as it meanders through the mostly rural woodlands environment, however, occasionally the trace opens up to adjacent pasture and/or croplands and travels through several small historic turn-of-the-century towns and communities. The trace also  crosses over seven (7) creeks and streams and Interstate 59 on the old and renovated railroad trestles and bridges and through a tunnel beneath city streets in Hattiesburg. The administrative offices of the Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to-Trails Recreational District are located in the Gateway at Southern Miss (adjacent to the campus of the University of Southern  Mississippi) which also serves as the official welcome center for the  Longleaf Trace, and rents bicycles and sells logo items. The Longleaf  Trace is regularly maintained with parking, water, vending and restroom accommodations at each of its eight (8) trailhead stations spaced along  the trail route.  Sixteen (16) rest stops/overlooks are also provided along its route for user convenience and to enjoy the picturesque views of nature. The adjacent rights-of-way and adjoining properties support a wide variety of native wildlife which is often spotted along the route.  The  trace is graced with colorful wildflowers that bloom throughout the seasons.




 Longleaf Trace

  Project 1:  Awarded 1995

  TE Award:  $2,692,192

  Matching funds:  $124,624

  MDOT soft match for ROW:  $550,000

  Additional funds:  Please see “History “section for details on the various donations contributed to this project.


  Project 2: Awarded 1999

  TE Award:  $1,926,546

  Matching funds:  $481,637



  Herlon D. Pierce      Lynn Cartlidge

 Trail Manager        President, Board of Director

 Longleaf Trace           Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to     Trails Recreational District

 (601) 450-5247 (office)

 (601) 315-2453 (cell)      (601) 545-6008 (office)

            (601) 408-1051 (cell)

For additional information, pictures, and comments from Trace visitors please visit our website at . 








    In early 1993, the Canadian National Railroad announced its intentions to  abandon its Illinois Central Gulf railway rights-of-way in Southeast Mississippi from western Hattiesburg in Forrest County through Lamar  County and to Prentiss in Jefferson Davis County. Mr. Lynn Cartlidge, President of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors reacted to the notice  and summoned the assistance of recently retired Forrest County Attorney Stone Barefield.  The Boards of Supervisors from the affected counties as  well as the mayors of the affected municipalities were asked to join in an  effort to oppose the pending abandonment. The city attorney for the Town  of Bassfield, Bobby Garraway, became an active participant of the  opposition.  After it was determined that the effort to stop the  abandonment would be futile, Mr. Cartlidge and Attorneys Barefield and  Garraway learned that Transportation Enhancement (TE) funds, administered by the Mississippi Department of Transportation, were  available to convert the old abandoned railway line and its rights-of-way into a multi-purpose public use recreational trail. Mr. James Moore, a local bike shop owner and biking enthusiast, was invited to and skillfully organized individuals and community support group/s which provided extensive but necessary public and community support and financial  resources for the hoped-for rails-to-trails conversion project.  In fact, Mr. Moore’s skill created support groups that were absolute, passionate, tireless and unwavering in their efforts to cause the conversion idea to become a reality. The team that Mr. Moore organized solicited the  financial support of individuals, businesses and corporations.  The Georgia Pacific Corporation became the principal adopting partner of the  proposed conversion with a donation of $50,000.  The Mississippi Power Company, W.R. Fairchild Construction Company, Warren Paving  Incorporated and Tatum Development Corporation also distinguished  themselves as adopting partners with contributions of from $10,000 to  $25,000 each.  Mr. Moore’s team then secured adopter/sponsors for the seven trestle bridges and many of the forty (40) historic mile markers that created an addition of more than $50,000.  Other community,  corporate, business and individual financial support was also successfully solicited by the group. 

 Armed with the united wishes of the county governments of Forrest, Lamar and Jeff Davis counties, and the municipalities of Bassfield, Hattiesburg, Prentiss and Sumrall along with the corporate partnerships  and adopter/sponsors, as well as an outpouring of community support,  Attorney Barefield asked the Mississippi State Legislature to approve a proposed legislative act to create the authority for rails-to-trails  recreational districts in the State of Mississippi.  Attorney Barefield, having  previously served as a Mississippi State Legislator, called upon his many friends in the state legislature to sponsor and support the approval of the authority needed.  That authority was granted in the legislative  session of 1994.  In 1994, upon gaining legal authority, and following  public hearings that showed clear public support , the Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to-Trails Recreational District was created with the adoption of a joint  resolution by the counties of Forrest, Lamar and Jefferson Davis, and the municipalities of Bassfield, Hattiesburg, Prentiss and Sumrall.  Negotiations for the rights-of-way were started in earnest when it was discovered that funds for the purchase of the rights-of-way were vetoed by the Governor of the State of Mississippi. It then appeared that the Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to-Trails Recreational District would be unable to meet  the time restraints for the purchase as established by the Canadian National Railroad and would not be able to secure to rights-of-way. Commissioner Ronnie Shows, Southern District, Mississippi Department of Transportation (MDOT), was asked by Attorney Garraway to assist with the purchase of the right-of-way if at all possible.  Commissioner Shows,  realizing the social, economic, health, and transportation benefits of the  project, convinced his fellow highway commissioners to support the  purchase of the proposed abandoned right-of-way by the Mississippi Department of Transportation.  With the energetic and professional assistance of the MDOT staff, the purchase was made, therefore  salvaging the rights-of-way for the proposed multi-use recreational trail.  With the leadership of Mr. Cartlidge, the newly appointed Board of  Directors authorized the development of a master plan for the proposed trail and a grant request was submitted for (TE) funds for construction.  With grant approval, the district hired engineers and architects to design  and implement the first phase of the master plan.  Grant (TE) funds were administered through the Mississippi Department of Transportation and  design was completed and construction was begun in early 1999 on Phase I which was completed and opened for public use in September of  2000, at a total cost of $2,816,816.  Phase I included the construction of a 39-mile long, 10-foot wide, asphalted trail, the reconstruction of seven (7) trestles, the construction of 6 trailhead parking lots, and 2 trailhead  stations. The abandonment of an additional 2+ miles of the old Illinois Central Gulf railroad was announced by the Canadian National Railroad  while the construction of Phase I was in progress.  The Pearl & Leaf Rivers Rails-to-Trails Recreational District and the Mississippi Department  of Transportation agreed to equally share the cost of the rights-of-way  included in the abandonment notice.  (TE) funds were again granted and administered through MDOT for this addition which opened in September  2003.  Included in the 2+ miles of trail construction were the Gateway at Southern Miss, the official welcome center of the Longleaf Trace, as well  as the Gateway in Prentiss on the western end of the trail. There was also  the addition of 4 trailhead stations. The Board of Directors has continued its efforts to improve and expand the Longleaf Trace with the addition of  16 overlook rest/rain stations, through sponsorships, along the trail route and an agreement to purchase an additional 2+ miles of right-of-way from the trails current eastern limit into downtown Hattiesburg. The additional rights-of-way purchase is being made with the assistance of the  Mississippi Department of Transportation and the City of Hattiesburg.





· The Trace has hosted more than 300,000 users since its opening in late 2000.

· The Trace has attracted users from all 50 states and several foreign countries.

· During a typical week, there are users from five (5) or more states that enjoy the Trace.


· Since the Trace opened for use in late 2000, there have been three (3) privately owned businesses to open along the Trace.

· Since the Trace opened, there have been three (3) bed and breakfast establishments opened along the Trace.

· It is estimated there currently are more than 500 motel room rentals that are made by users of the Trace.

· It is estimated that currently more than 5000 restaurant visits annually are created by users of the Trace.

· Equipment sales, bikes, bike equipment, roller blades, specialty clothing and shoe sales have increased by 25 percent since the Trace opening in 2000.

· Three (3) new home subdivisions are in the development stage adjacent to the Trace rights-of-way, marketing sales by location.

· More than one thousand (1000) bike rentals were reported during the last year from rental vendors along the Trace.

Health Related

· Twenty (20) percent of the 10,000 estimated residents living within three (3) miles of the Trace report they have increased their exercise.

· Medical Doctors and health/fitness clubs/organizations now prescribe the use of the Trace for health recovery, prevention, and fitness activities.

· The general health related quality of life of local regular user residents has improved as medication use and cost to users has been reduced by more than fifty (50) percent.


· By reclaiming the unused railroad rights-of-way more than twenty (20) dumps that included household garbage, old roofing, paint materials, old tires and etc. were removed and no longer exist.

· Five (5) areas of excessive erosion were recovered with the construction of the Trace and is now properly maintained.

· Opening of the Trail allows for the proper care of significant resources along the 100+foot wide 40+ mile long rights-of-way.

· Biking for University of Southern Mississippi, student access to and on the campus has reduced the need for vehicle fuel and supplies with a goal of a twenty (20) percent reduction.

Transportation Related

· The Trace provides safe access for 100 or more students and professionals of the University of Southern Mississippi.

· The University of Southern Mississippi is currently developing a network of hiking trails from the Trace, through and within the University with the expectation that the need for future vehicle parking spaces will be reduced by as much as ten (10) percent.

· The Trace has caused a new transportation mind-set as a growing number of residents are biking and or walking to their workplace.

· No serious bike/blade/jogging/walking/ related accidents with vehicles have occurred in the four years the Trace has been open for use.