Efforts are underway to repair and reopen the Lucedale Depot Greenway, which closed last year due to safety concerns of a deteriorating boardwalk.

   Longtime supporters and advocates of the project are asking local businesses and individuals to help raise funds to restore and reopen the Greenway. A silent auction to raise these funds is planned for the Sept. 12 "Second Saturday" downtown event. The auction will open at 4 p.m. and close at 8 p.m. and items can be picked up at the close of the auction. Items will be displayed in the Coffee Pot Parking Lot across from Vincent's Clothiers. A letter mailed last week identified the silent auction date as July 11; however, due to COVID-19 the auction was delayed until September.

   Merchants are being asked to donate goods or services. Individuals are being asked to donate furniture, art, antiques, handcrafted items or any item valued at $25 or more. Cash donations are also welcomed and are tax-deductible. Items and donations may be left at City Hall beginning this week.

   The Greenway opened in 2003 with 43 acres of wetlands located near the former Lucedale train depot. The brainchild of late local attorney Bill Bailey, the Greenway was meant to connect children to nature. In 2010 an educational building was added as an outdoor classroom and picnic venue.

   The Greenway offers free adventures for couples, kids and families to explore flora and fauna in a scenic environment. It includes a half-mile walking trail with a quarter mile elevated boardwalk.

   The City of Lucedale maintains the Greenway through an agreement with the property's owner, the Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain. The land was donated by the Luce family and funding for its development came from the Mississippi Wildlife and Fisheries and Parks and the Karen Havard Fund.

   "This land was enjoyed by visitors and locals alike," Dayton Whites, advocate of the Greenway, said. "Those enjoying the walkway and trail were made up mostly of families who enjoyed the out-of-doors and its turtles, egrets, fish, ducks and other wildlife. With good weather there would be many walking the elevated walkway or in the woods."

   After about 15 years, natural weathering had deteriorated boards which the city replaced as needed. By 2019 safety concerns surrounding the increased number of weakened boards caused the city and Land Trust to close the elevated walkway.

   "It was felt that this project was too great and too well used not to make every effort to repair it for the use of all our citizens. Our children need a place to visit the out-of-doors," Whites said. "With urbanization, the need will be greater in the future."

   The city and Land Trust have been searching for ways to repair and safely reopen the walkway. Repairs are expected to cost $100,000. Applications for grants are underway; however, most grants require matching funds by either cash or in-kind labor. Private and public donations thus far have accumulated $7,800.

   Anyone interested in donating or in helping support the Greenway may contact Kathy Anderson at City Hall, 601-947-2081, Dayton Whites at 601-530-3012 or Judy Steckler at Land Trust for the Mississippi Coastal Plain, 228-435-9191.

   Award-winning journalist Nancy Jo Maples has been writing about Mississippi people and places for more than 30 years. Contact her at nancyjomaples@aol.com.

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