A little more than a year ago, officials from the City of Hattiesburg announced a $120,000 Recreational Trails Program grant from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks and the Federal Highway Administration that will help fund the extension of the current walking trail at Duncan Lake by about half a mile to bring the trail around to the back side of the 17- acre lake.
That project got its official start Sept. 21, with a groundbreaking at the site that will feature an 8-foot-wide, 1,525-foot-long trail and a raised boardwalk over a low area along the trail.
“It’s exciting to see new developments in Twin Forks Rising,” Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado said. “One of our goals is to make sure that our communities are walkable, because walkable communities are more healthy communities, and we are creating outdoor opportunities for families.
“I would encourage families to come down to this part of Hattiesburg, particularly to Duncan Lake. Over the years, I have seen Duncan Lake blossom, and it blossoms because of investment. I can remember a time when it was not so appealing, but it is now. That goes to show you that any community that you invest in, and put your heart in, can blossom and be a great space for the citizens of Hattiesburg.”
The trail will tie into the East Jerusalem neighborhood and beyond, hooking into the old Gulfport Street roadbed that will be renovated after the Hall Street east overpass project is completed. The trail, which will continue all the way to Alcorn Street, will feature two entrances, providing a direct access point to families in that neighborhood.
“That means that when that is completed, you have now connected East Hardy Street to Duncan Lake,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “But even looking beyond that, we want East Hardy Street connected to Chain Park along the river, and that was one of the main reasons we formed the river district with Petal and Forrest County.
“If you can connect Chain Park with Duncan Lake, then you have connected Duncan Lake to the Longleaf Trace, and the ecotourism possibilities really come into play.”
Much of the trail will be located on what is believed to be only one of six sandhill environments in Mississippi. Only two of those six environments are located on public land, with Duncan Lake being one of those.
Sandhill ecosystems are found on ancient deposits of deep sand from oceans and rivers, and resemble some habitats found in the American southwest. Sandhill environments are home to a diverse range of species not found in other habitats, including the Cockspur Prickly Pear and the Sandhill Milkweed, which is a host plant for the caterpillars of monarch butterflies.
In addition, there are more than 100 species of birds that either reside in or migrate through the sandhill environment at Duncan Lake.
“Because of this rare ecosystem, part of this trail features a 60-foot boardwalk in the middle of the trail to minimize human impact on this environment, while also giving Hattiesburgers and other visitors an opportunity to experience something truly different,” Barker said. “We want to thank the numerous naturalists in our community who frequent this area; they have provided valuable insight into the animal and plant species at the Duncan Lake sandhill environment.”
The total cost of the project, which is expected to be complete by the end of this year, is $293,067. Of that, $120,00 will come from the aforementioned grant, with the remaining $173,067 coming from the 1-percent sales tax increase at Hattiesburg hotels, motels and restaurants that was approved by voters last year.
“This is another great park for the healthy citizens of Hattiesburg,” said Chris McGee, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “With the addition of this trail, this will be an opportunity for people to get out and take in nature, along with fishing, biking, and hiking.
“I think this is going to be a great addition to the east side of Hattiesburg. I’m going to challenge my programmers to come out here and let’s do some programs for the citizens of Hattiesburg.”