By J. Lynn West
Ceremonies Sunday formally marked the opening of Tanglefoot Trail, the 44-mile walking and bike path that runs between New Albany and Houston. A rails-to-trails project, the trail follows the path the train engine known as the Tanglefoot followed, which also was the traditional Chickasaw trail route.
The ceremonies began at New Albany and Houston with riders carrying symbolic railroad spikes to be driven at the junction of the original lines in Pontotoc. Ceremonies also were held at the whistlestop sites including Ingomar in Union County and Ecru.
Betsey Hamilton, who served as chairman of the Tanglefoot Trail Commission, welcomed everyone and said she was privileged to be part of “this amazing journey.”
“It just shows what can be accomplished when people work cooperatively,” Hamilton said.
She gave a brief history of the project, which began in 2005. Counties along the line showed some interest but that waned and it was the City of New Albany that actually signed the papers to rail bank the abandoned line.
She thanked local city and county officials for sustaining the effort as well.
“We have in this area, our county, our city, something no city north of Hattiesburg can claim,” she said. “We have an exceptional destination attraction that is going to be used by so many people.”
That statement was backed up by the fact that, during the ceremonies, the programs were nearly interrupted by people going both north and south, actually riding on the trail.
Union County Heritage Museum Director Jill Smith talked about the history of the railroad, started by Col. William Falkner, the great-grandfather of writer William Faulkner 125 years ago. “This is historic ground,” she said, “a major artery in our cultural bloodstream.”
Mayor Tim Kent told of how the railroad was abandoned by the Tennessee-Mississippi Railnet, then purchased, essentially to be dismantled and sold for scrap, before the city rail-banked it when no other group showed interest.
“I thought it would be the only opportunity for us to have something like this,” he said. “Since then, a lot of people have been hard at work and good things have come about.”
“Anybody can get on the trail and ride it,” Kent said. “You don’t have to have any qualifications. You can be young or old, rich or poor.” In fact, Kent told of meeting and an 80-year-old man who was living out a wish to ride 80 miles on the trail on the day of his birthday.
Ray Collins is the other Union County commission member. Also, Hamilton recently resigned her post and city officials appointed new marketing director Sean Johnson to serve on the commission in her place.
“We have been waiting for this day a long time,” Hamilton said at the Ingomar whistle stop ceremony. “We are so happy for Ingomar to have this. We hope you all enjoy it and have your families out to enjoy it and nature.”
Jill Smith, in telling more history, noted that Ingomar was actually first known as Fredonia, but when Col. Falkner came through with his railroad he had the right to name the depot. He chose the name Ingomar from the name of a Chickasaw chief in the well-know novel Falkner had written, “The White Rose of Memphis.” She said it was perhaps no coincidence because the home of the last Chickasaw chief, Ish-te-ho-to-pah, was only about a mile from where the ceremony in Ingomar was held.
Brad Manning and Britt Smith, who carried the ceremonial spike through Union County, stand with former commission chairman Betsey Hamilton.