THE NORTHSIDE SUN

Over the Boardwalk

A new boardwalk has been completed at the Mississippi Craft Center, representing almost 15 years of planning and building.

“When this piece of property was picked, the intention was to always have access from the front of the building to the Natchez Trace,” said Becky Mercier a member of the Craftsmen Guild.

“This goes back 12 years, before the building was built. We’ve been trying ever since to get permission to build (the boardwalk).”

According to Nancy Perkins, executive director and project director, construction began in April of this year and took a little more than a month. What took so long was gaining the right permissions to build the approximately 300-foot walkway.

“The construction was quick,” said Perkins. “The environmental assessment was important to do because we needed to show that building the boardwalk would not cause any harm to the environment or historical or cultural findings on the property.”

The 18-month environmental assessment was completed by Headwaters Inc., which found the boardwalk would have no significant impact on the environment.

“We needed a FONSI (findings of no significant impact) to be issued the construction permit from the Natchez Trace Parkway, part of the National Park Service.”

Eventually, the craft center received a recreational trail grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to build the raised boardwalk; and cash and in-kind contributions were given by Headwaters Inc., the Natchez Trace Parkway Association, C Spire Foundation and Ken McLemore Restoration.

C Spire gave $2,000 and the Natchez Trace Parkway Association gave $5,000, said Perkins.

“We had permission from all parties, including the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the 12 Native American tribes with interests at the site.”

The boardwalk itself extends almost 300 feet and winds through the Natchez Trace Parkway.

“It sits on piers on top of the ground. It was the least obtrusive thing to not harm the natural environment,” said Perkins. “It’s raised and winds through the woods, and connects with Brashears Stand, a turnabout that already had parking.”

The boardwalk gives craft center visitors and employees direct access to the Natchez Trace Parkway.

“Visitors will have a better vantage point of the sunken portions of the Old Natchez Trace and Carroll’s Road, two of Mississippi’s earliest wagon roads from the early 1800s.… There’s a lot of history in that area.”

Carroll Road, now part of Old Canton Road, and the sunken trace used to be known for being the point where travelers could travel to New Orleans one way or Vicksburg the other.

“Andrew Jackson and his troops also camped there during the War of 1812,” Perkins added. “There are a lot of historical people involved.”

The boardwalk provides an additional access point to the area’s multipurpose recreational trails.  Runners, walkers and cyclists are welcome to park in the Mississippi Craft Center parking lot to access the trails.

The boardwalk, officially called the Dan Overly Boardwalk, is named after the first executive director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi. Overly held the position for 20 years and passed away in 2009.

The craft center is operated by the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi.

On October 11, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., the craft center will hold a dedication ceremony, “Somewhere over the Boardwalk,” for the newly-completed walkway. Rep. Gregg Harper will officiate the ceremony, which also celebrates the completion of the center’s two new parking lots, which added 100 parking spaces to the center.

The event is free and open to the public at 950 Rice Rd., in Ridgeland, with a reception following. Sponsors include the Ridgeland Tourism Commission, Regions Bank, Waggoner Engineering and the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi.