DeSoto parks board urges public input in area bike-trail planning

Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), 2014-06-13

June 13 --DeSoto County's park board is in "drive" mode when it comes to community involvement.

At this week's session, the Recreational District Commission eyed public participation in resource planning opportunities and noted grants received to boost the annual Kids Outdoor Conservation Camp and the fall Eagle Fest fundraiser for nonprofit Mississippi Wildlife Rehabilitation and a future nature center.

"There's a pool of money out there, and the number of comments from your population affects the distribution of those funds," said the commission's vice chairman, Wayne Spell . "Granting agencies want to send their money where there's input and a known need."

Spell commented after parks and greenways director Larry Jarrett said residents should participate in a public survey as part of updating the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan of the Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization .

In 2012-13, MPO jurisdictions including DeSoto County added 40 miles of new bike lanes and greenways, and Jarrett said another 200 miles of active transportation projects are to be built over the next three years. The plan was issued just three years ago but it needs to be revisited "to keep up with the progress," said Jarrett.

Among its queries the survey asks residents about the types of trips made by cycling or walking, perceptions of safety and comfort, and ways to better inform the public about projects.

Jarrett said the survey can be done online at and paper copies can be obtained by calling the MPO at 901-576-7190.

At its next meeting, July 8 , the commission will carve out time for a hearing to get members' comment on the Comprehensive Green Resources Management Plan to guide the county and its cities on parks, trails and spaces "for the next 15 to 20 years," said Jarrett. He said DeSoto County Schools educators gave input during last week's Teacher Environmental Education Workshop at Hernando Middle School .

Public comment is urged at sessions to be set, "but we want to get our ducks in a row before we go out with any big meetings," said Jarrett.

Commissioners also joined Jarrett in noting a petition drive organized by the North Mississippi Trail Alliance and supporters requesting local government support to add new trails suitable for hiking, running and cycling. Petitions can be signed at the Full Motion Running and Cycling shop in Olive Branch and the Peddler Bike Shop in Southaven , and online through the alliance website, .

In February, alliance members told the commission about efforts to establish a 14- to 18-mile trail in Olive Branch for mountain bikers, hikers and runners through a public-private partnership.

"That fell through," Jarrett reported to the panel this week. "It looks like the property that was discussed for lease will be developed."

However, the alliance has made trail progress in southern DeSoto County with the recent signing of a partnership with the Corps of Engineers , whose Arkabutla Lake is home to the Bayou Point mountain bike trail and the Coldwater River nature trail. Chris Lockhart , alliance vice president, said the group already has proposed expansion of Bayou Point and other trails.

"They'll construct these improvements and maintain the trails and work with the Corps," said Jarrett.

The commission welcomed a report of grants received: $3,000 through the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and the North Central Mississippi Resource Conservation and Development Council for this week's youth camp, and $3,500 through the authority's tourism fund to support Eagle Fest, slated for Sept. 27 at Arkabutla Lake .

"Free money is always good," said commissioner Ray Laughter . "And these are good causes."


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