While in Hattiesburg, Tom and I took two days to ride the Longleaf Trace Bike Trail. Longleaf Trace is another beautiful Rail Trail – in fact, it is in the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame! Longleaf Trace runs from Hattiesburg to Prentiss Mississippi and was the first rail-trail in Mississippi – finished in 2004. Longleaf Trace was built on the bed of an old timber railway. When the timber boom was over in the 1920’s, the railway was no longer used.
Longleaf Trace is named after the Longleaf Pine tree, which is abundant in this part of the U.S. Known formally as pinus palustris (“pine of the marsh”), Longleaf Pines once covered 30 to 60 million acres of the southeastern United States. They are highly resistant to fire and can grow to more than 100 feet. Some can live longer than 400 years, but they can take up to 150 years to reach full size. The Longleaf Pine are still harvested today, but primarily on tree farms instead of in natural forest. Longleaf Pine “straw” is used for mulching in landscaping.
The bike trail “begins” in Hattiesburg, at the edge of the University of Southern Mississippi, just across from the HUGE USM football stadium. It has a nice welcome center where you can rent bikes or get more information. There are special parking spaces for Trace users and they work hard to keep them open (not taken over by USM students). In fact (unless you have a bike rack on your car) if you have a USM student sticker and park in the Trace parking, you will likely be towed. The Gateway welcome center is staffed most of the hours that people are riding Longleaf Trace. There is a picnic pavilion, a memorial wall, and lots of signs with sponsors names.
Longleaf Trace had some of the best signage we have seen on a Rail-Trail. It was easy to find the trailheads, and every town had a restroom shelter with a coke machine and information about the town posted. You could stand at the trailhead and see if there was a restaurant or convenience store in town. All of the trailheads also had lovely parks with lots of shade where you could stop to rest.
Prentiss is the western terminus of the Trace – 40 miles from Hattiesburg. We started there one day and rode up the first six miles to Carson. Carson is the highest point on the trail with an elevation of 519 feet. We continued riding to Bassfield where there was a convenience store and a really nice park where we ate a snack and rested a little. Bassfield’s motto is “The Village on the Trace.” People along Longleaf Trace are proud of building the Trace and what it brings to their communities. Lots of people waved at us and acted like they were glad to have us riding along their backyards and through their fields.
Our second ride on Longleaf Trace started in Hattiesburg and ended in Sumrall. Again, we rode uphill the first 11 miles and then downhill into Sumrall. This ride was less rural, going the first seven miles through the city of Hattiesburg. There were also lots of signs – sponsor signs, 5K and 10K signs, a flag over the trail at a random point, and mile markers. We also really enjoyed the signs that named the trees that we passed: Black Gum, Longleaf Pine, Water Oak, Chinese Tallow, Yaupon, Sparkleberry, Supplejack, Hornbeam. Some of these are trees we have never heard of, so we had to look them up when we got back.
We rode a total of 53 miles on Longleaf Trace – out and back. We had beautiful, sunny weather both days with the temperature at 86 (riding in the afternoon) the first day and 68 (riding in the morning) the second day. Our average speed was over 15 miles per hour – we worked hard on the uphills but flew back down the other direction! Mississippi has another long rail-trail – the 43 mile Tanglefoot Trail. These two trails alone would be a good enough reason to make a trip to Mississippi.