Laurel set to apply for grant to fund city trail system

LAUREL - City officials plan to apply for a $300,000 state grant - the first step in a project that would encircle the city with a trail system.

The Mississippi Department of Transportation enhancement grant would turn the old Kansas City Southern railroad tracks at the city's renovated depot into a rails-to-trails connector to historic Gardner Park.

Most of the grant - which requires a 20 percent, or $60,000, match from the city - would rebuild a train trestle over Teresa Street. The Laurel City Council voted Tuesday to apply for the grant.

The trail would end at Daughdrill Street, a distance of 750 feet. The project calls for marking the trail using city sidewalks to reach Gardner Park bordered by Seventh and 10th avenues.

"Once this first section is complete, it will open our historic district to walkers or cyclists," Laurel spokesman Paulette Boone Frohman said.

Frohman, who handles public relations for the city, said plans call for eventually linking the various parts of the city through a series of trails.

Laurel resident Geoffrey Galaher, an avid cyclist, has supported for several years creating a rails-to-trails similar to Longleaf Trace in Hattiesburg.

"These types of trails are so nice because you don't have to worry about traffic," Galaher said. "It also enhances a city's quality of life. Look at Longleaf Trace. It's a very good, very popular and safe recreational outlet."

Longleaf Trace is a 10-foot wide, 41-mile recreation trail that follows the abandoned Illinois Central Railroad between Hattiesburg and Prentiss.

Frohman said officials decided to start the project at the depot and route it to Gardner Park because of the park's history.

Gardner Park was designed by the architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmstead of New York, the same firm that designed that city's Central Park.

Olmstead, the father of American landscape architecture, was hired by the city's early lumber barons to build the 11-acre park, Frohman said.

Originally published July 20, 2006