Biking the Trail from New Albany
to the Ingomar Mounds
Jonathan Smith recounts his pleasant afternoon trip…
A warm springtime Saturday afternoon seemed like a perfect time for a ride down the Tanglefoot Trail, Mississippi’s longest rails-to-trail project at over 43 miles. I loaded up my bike and headed to the parking lot behind New Albany’s City Hall, just across the street from the trail head. As I took my bike down from the carrier I noticed that the license plate on my right was from Ohio and the one on the left from Arkansas. License plates from Tennessee and other Mississippi counties dotted the parking lot. I’d planned an afternoon ride to the Ingomar Mounds, about 8 miles south of the New Albany trail head on the Tanglefoot Trail. It’s a pleasant ride that takes about an hour and a half to two hours at an easy, casual-rider friendly pace. At the trail head a young couple was trying out the bikes they had rented for the afternoon and a large family was just arriving back at the trailhead after an easy morning ride, the younger members of the group were discussing which stores they wanted to shop at after lunch. As I turned back to look north up the trail I glimpsed a locomotive parked on the still-active northern segment of the line.
The afternoon was pleasantly warm with a hint of a cooling breeze as I rolled past the backyards of houses, so close that I wondered how the occupants managed to sleep through the night when this was an active train track. Flowers, intentionally planted and opportunistic, bloomed in the backyards and dandelions provided a sunny yellow contrast to the green space between the small commercial buildings that line one side of the trail. I slowed as I approached the point where the trail crosses a couple of access roads and passes under the US-78/I-22 overpass. This was the only major road crossing on my ride, but it’s well marked for both cyclists and cars so I had no trouble. Once past I followed the trail south, on the left sat a residential area and on the right a wooded area that is part of the Tallahatchie river basin. The sound of laughter filtered in from one of the backyards where a group of children were playing. As I biked along the houses gradually faded out and, after crossing the Owen Road intersection, the trail enters a wooded section, my favorite part of the ride. The scent of flowers filled the air, dominated by the dogwood and redbud trees that provide splashes of white and pink along the trail. Spring is in the air and the trees are starting to green. Mayapples were popping up like glossy green umbrella and flowers of all sorts were in bloom as I glided along the trail. Beyond the trees are glimpses of fields, pastures full of grazing cows, and picturesque old barns.
The wheels of my bike rumbled along the wooden planks of a converted railroad bridge. Below me, a stream merrily bubbled on its way to join the Tallahatchie River nearby. Just beyond this bridge, the longest on this section, the trail begins a gradual climb through a deep cut in the hillside. Every time I pass through this cut I am struck by the amount of labor it must have required to build the railroad. This section was built entirely by hand, mostly by convict labor. The hillside was dug out, not by large machinery, but by men with shovels and wheelbarrows. Over one hundred years later their work is still visible in the landscape. The flowers on this hill are especially fragrant. As I reached the top of the gentle slope and crossed the first of several small county roads that intersect with the trail the landscape once again changed to open fields and farmhouses. Old farming equipment sat in shady spots under large trees along the margins of farmhouse lawns and an occasional pickup truck rumbled by on a small road that parallels the trail for a short distance. In the distance tractors were at work in fields, preparing for the planting season. I stopped to briefly chat with a family out riding the trail. They are from Ecru, a nearby town, and are returning from their morning jaunt down the trail. They had started in Ingomar and ridden to New Albany and back. The brief conversation revealed that the trail had become a regular outing for them, and they’re in the process of upgrading the family’s bicycles, dad and daughter had shiny new bikes but mom was still deciding on what style she wanted. We compared notes on breakdowns along the trail. I’d had a tire blow out earlier in the day, an experience they’d shared. We had received several friendly offers of help from other riders along the trail and agreed that the kindness and offers of help from strangers had been a great boost to what could have been a bad day.
After my brief chat I continued along the trail towards my destination. Soon enough I saw the spires of the two churches at Ingomar heave into view above the trees, followed by the neat row of houses that leads into the center of this small community along the trail. At Ingomar I stopped for a water break at the new rest area in Ingomar, called a “Whistlestop”. These shelters are reminiscent of the train depots that once stood along these tracks and contain water fountains, rest areas, and a covered picnic area where users of the trail can stop for a rest, a bite to eat, or to wait out any unexpected showers. It was late afternoon already, so I pushed on for the Ingomar Mounds. The trail goes through another wooded cut just south of Ingomar, and it is here that I had my most exciting wildlife encounter on the trail. I was riding in the early evening and heard a rustling in the undergrowth, followed by a small animal that darted into the middle of the trail and stopped, staring at me. At first I thought it was a cat, but as I got closer the distinctive ears and face of a fox looked back at me. The fox suddenly leapt into the undergrowth and ran, crisscrossing the trail in front of me for the next quarter mile. I think about this every time I ride this section, although I haven’t encountered the fox again. Soon enough I arrived at the intersection with County Road 96, where I turned right off the trail. A colorful painting of a quilt square hangs on a fence at this intersection, providing a vibrant marker. I followed the road for about a mile as it went up a small hill, back down, and made a sharp right curve. Just after the curve the sign and parking area for the Ingomar Mound appeared and I pulled my bike into the parking lot. The Mound is an excellent destination for a picnic lunch, nature walk, or just to enjoy the view from the top of the mound. It was late afternoon and shadows were lengthening so I enjoyed a brief rest in the shadow of the mound, accompanied by the sounds of a father and his two daughters playing in the field next to the mound. Any day is a good day to ride the trail, but a warm afternoon in early spring had made for a particularly beautiful day which will, no doubt, stand out in my memory for a long time.