In the friendly tug-of-war Jackson plays with its suburbs over residents, the suburbs have seemingly developed an unlikely edge: networks of biking and walking trails that can actually take you from place to place.
While Jackson doesn’t officially have any commuter trails (yet), the more active and adventurous residents of Belhaven and Belhaven Heights have been using a secret trail system for years. An abandoned rail road track, with a section of rails removed from High St all the way to the Pearl River, makes a perfect forested get away right in the city. It is not uncommon to find dog walkers, mountain bikers, or the occasional 4-wheeler using the clear and level packed gravel trail.
While this “trail system” can be accessed in a few different places, it is most commonly accessed in Belhaven Heights on Greymont St or behind Laurel St park. After passing the Water Works Plant, the trail terminates as it approaches the Pearl River. As the earth drops off, the rail bed remains level, supported from beneath by a system of creosote trusses. This creates an unusual condition where you are walking in the canopy of the forest, some 25 ft above the ground. The bridge becomes impassable due to a mysterious fire that was allowed to burn a few days before Katrina struck. While you can still get close enough to the river to catch a glimpse of the structural elegance of the old train trestle, you are no longer able to walk across onto the Rankin county side.
This section of rails traces it’s history to the now defunct Gulf, Mobile and Ohio Railroad, which seems to have acquired it during the late 1920’s. During it’s operation, this line was able to move people and cargo from Union, MS to Mobile, AL via Jackson. There was a large switch yard on High St where some of the service buildings still stand. GM&O was bought by Illinois Central, and in 1996, closed this section of rail as well as many others due to redundancy in routes. Interestingly, a private speculator now owns the bridge, while thankfully the old rail bed is owned by The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation.
While most of the story of this piece of obscura is one of neglect (and possibly arson) there is a silver lining. Through a community partnership between Bike Walk Mississippi, the Jackson Bike Advocates, and The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, plans are underway to create the Museum-to-Market Trail. This will take the existing trail to a whole new level. In addition to making the trail official, it will be extended to allow someone to walk, bike, or rollerblade from the MS Farmers’ Market on High Street all the way to the Natural Science and Children’s Museums without ever crossing a single street! The volunteer trail clean-up day is happening Saturday, May 7th from 9am-12. Please come out and help make this vision a reality.
(Special thanks to James Tatum and the Central Mississippi Model Railroad Association. This group operates a working scale model of the old GM&O line at the Ag Museum, and totally deserve to have a Obscura post of their own. For more history and maps of the GM&O visit www.gmohs.org)