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VOL. 130 | NO. 47 | Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Wiedower

Lance Wiedower

Natchez Trace Mixes Beauty, History

By Lance Wiedower

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In Northeast Mississippi is the central point of a National Park Service beauty that stretches 444 miles and combines natural scenery with American history that dates back 10,000 years.

When considering America’s great National Park Service, does the Natchez Trace Parkway quickly come to mind? Long an overlooked and forgotten piece of American history, the park was an idea that took the better part of the 20th century to see come to full fruition.

Started in the 1930s as a New Deal project, it wasn’t completed until 1996 when the spectacular, double-arched Tenn. 96 bridge was completed near Franklin.

Today, the Natchez Trace Parkway is one of the most popular sites in the National Park Service. Some 5.8 million people visited the park in 2014, making it the eighth-most visited unit in the service.

What makes the parkway so appealing is its gently winding path through beautiful countryside in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. With a posted speed limit of 50 mph, drivers aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere.

The Natchez Trace played an important role in the growth of the Southern United States. From the late 1700s to the 1820s the Natchez Trace was a vital link connecting the U.S. to the outposts in the western frontier down toward New Orleans, providing a path back to Nashville for the boatmen who had shipped their cargo downstream.

But even before the original Natchez Trace was used as a postal road and a military road, it was a Native American path.

And all along the modern journey visitors can find archaeological sites that help tell the history of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, some of it related to the long process of removal of Native Americans to lands west of the Mississippi River.

Segments of the Natchez Trace Parkway are pretty easy to access from points across the Mid-South. The main visitor center is in Tupelo, roughly a midway point to the southern terminus in Natchez, Miss., and northern terminus near Nashville.

A recent winter drive along the Parkway near Tupelo hinted at all the glory that is to come this spring as the surrounding countryside begins to bloom. And, yes, spring is an ideal time to make the journey.

The logistical issue for Memphians wanting to travel the Natchez Trace Parkway is the fact it could take a couple hours of driving just to get there before starting the actual journey.

If You Go: It would be a long day to attempt the full drive from Natchez to Nashville, even if starting early in the morning. To fully enjoy the Natchez Trace Parkway, a long weekend is in order. But a day trip could be done if picking a shorter segment that makes sense – Nashville to Tupelo or Jackson up to Tupelo, for example.

The Natchez Trace Parkway intersects U.S. 78 near Tupelo about a 90-minute drive southeast of Memphis.

Read Lance Wiedower’s travel site tripsbylance.com or follow him at @tripsbylance.

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