Walking trail at Duncan Lake to get half-mile extension with help of 1-cent tax

By HASKEL BURNS,

The recently-implemented 1-cent sales tax increase at restaurants and hotels in Hattiesburg continues to pay off for the city, with an extended walking trail at Duncan Lake in the works with the help of that funding.

Approximately $70,000 of local funding from the new tax – along with $120,000 in grant funding through the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks’ Recreational Trails Program – will allow officials to extend the current walking trail by about a half a mile, which will bring the trail around to the back side of the lake.

“This will give visitors and fishermen the ability to experience new parts of the lake, and further enhance an already amazing wildlife experience here in Ward 2, which we call Twin Forks Rising, just southeast of downtown, ” Mayor Toby Barker said Monday at a news conference at the lake. “Recreational trails grants under the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks are very competitive, and these funds are hard to come by – in fact, a community’s chance of getting an award is less than 50/50 every year.

“So it takes a team advocating on behalf of the city, along with a good application, to see projects approved. We would not have this grant today without our (Legislative) delegation.”

The trail will be 6 feet in width and 1,525 feet long, and would include a raised five-foot-long boardwalk over a low area along the trail.

“We are always excited to bring projects to the city of Hattiesburg, and particularly Twin Forks Rising,” Ward 2 Councilwoman Deborah Delgado said. “This is an area, that many years ago, I came to and walked around and requested that we do something to improve it that would be inviting to the citizens of Hattiesburg, and I’m so excited that we are able to do that.

“Now, with the additional funding, we’ll be able to expand that original vision for Duncan Lake. I want to thank our delegation for their hard work and their tenacity in bringing these funds forward, and since I’m never shy about asking, I still want to see a bridge from the main shore to the island that’s in the middle of the lake. I’m sure they’ll be able to make that happen because they’re creative, and they want to see new and innovative things happen in our great city.”

Missy McGee, who serves District 102 in the Mississippi House of Representatives, said it was a privilege to fight for the grant.

“There are so many positive things going on in our city right now; it’s so exciting,” she said. “It’s hard to get an award, particularly one of this size, but we knew we had a great project in Duncan Lake – which is a treasure for all of Hattiesburg, but especially for east Hattiesburg.

“So when the 1-cent tax was passed back in April, we knew we had the opportunities to leverage this local funding source with statewide grant opportunities.”

Officials expect to start design on the project immediately, and construction should be underway within the next six months.

“But even now, we look toward the future, even after this project,” Barker said. “We know that this walking path will one day connect to the coming boulevard on Gulfport Street and Hall Avenue; that’s the next step.

“We know that we will then be able to connect Duncan Lake to East Hardy Street and beyond, and we know there’s so many other improvements to this park we can make. So for this part of the city, for this time, for our children, we will keep thinking big and going after even bigger things.”

On June 1, the city received its first payment of $226,272.08 from the 1-cent tax, which was passed in April with an 81 percent voter approval rate. The city’s share of those funds is $113,136.04, is being used at Thames Elementary School and for a basketball/tennis court on East 8th Street. The remainder will go to the University of Southern Mississippi for renovations at Reed Green Coliseum.

Half of the funds from new tax - which is expected to bring approximately $4.2 million in new revenue - will go to 17 Parks and Recreation Department projects, with the other half going to the colisuem. The tax is set to “sunset,” or expire, on June 30, 2022, but a vote from both Hattiesburg City Council and the Mississippi Legislature could approve a four-year extension.

Other city projects include a girls’ softball field at Hattiesburg High School, drainage improvements to the soccer fields at Tatum Park and a Miracle League inclusion ball field for children with special needs.

Any city share of revenue collected above $1.2 million each year will be invested into sidewalks, bike trails and multi-use paths. That endeavor will specifically focus on South 40th Avenue, Westover Drive, East 7th Street, Quinn Street, Edwards Street, North 31st Avenue and South 17th Avenue.

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