Hernando residents and visitors to the city should soon be able to take a walk or bike ride on a completed 1.73-mile trail that will encompass the Renasant Park area of the DeSoto County seat.
City officials received word Monday that funding expected to cover the cost of a completed trail at the park and recreational area will come with $100,000 in additional grant money from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation “Healthy Heroes” Grant.
Mayor Tom Ferguson and Community Development Director Gia Matheny said it was the largest health grant the city has ever received with money from the grant at present earmarked for the multi-use trail improvements.
“That’s our plans, as of now, to go all the way around with it,” Mayor Tom Ferguson said. “People are really looking for safe places to walk.”
“I spoke with Mayor Ferguson prior to writing the grant to find out where our needs were,” Matheny said. “That was something he was very passionate about in trying to expand Renasant Park. We put our efforts into that and we were hoping that we would be awarded the money.”
The city is continuing to make improvements in the area that now includes a dog park and skate park. Ferguson and Matheny hopes future improvements can also include more direct access from a nearby subdivision.
The trail funding comes as part of a program that also allows for police officers to meet with schoolchildren to promote health and wellness, hence the “Healthy Heroes” moniker for the Foundation’s program.
“We received a Healthy Heroes grant in 2016,” Matheny said. “We had uniformed police officers go into all of our elementary schools every month of the school year. They taught healthy eating habits and work directly with the school system during PE class.”
Matheny said that program will now continue with this grant, but with added money to move into the community with the park improvements.
“The good thing about the trail is that it is not just a walking trail,” Matheny said. “It’s a multi-use trail, so you will be able to bike, walk or jog,” Matheny pointed out. “It gives you more than one option. It’s also going to be in a very beautiful setting, so it’s good for peace of mind.”
One of the stipulations of the grant, Matheny said, is that the funding be spent within one year of the award, so the expectations are that city officials will begin to move forward quickly on the project.
The latest award continues pushing Hernando forward as a community that cares about good health. The same Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation last year named the city as a Healthy Hometown. Hernando was also named Mississippi’s Healthiest Hometown in 2010 by the foundation.
“The Blue Cross & Blue Shield Foundation is proud to continue its partnership with the City of Hernando as part of the Healthy Heroes Program,” said Foundation Executive Director Sheila Grogan.
Ferguson was ecstatic as he and aldermen walked along a muddy path to the location where the walking trails will begin.
"It's fantastic," Ferguson said. "We really hope to get Renasant Park off to a great start with this walking trail. It will be 1.7 miles in length. We would like to connect it to the Civic Center," added Ferguson of the sprawling recreational complex located to the west.
Ward 2 Alderman Andrew Miller echoed Ferguson.
"It's another amenity for the city," Miller said.
The walking trail, once built, will be located in the ward of longtime Alderman E.R. "Sonny" Bryant.
"I think it's a good thing for the city," Bryant said. "I think it's going to be great for the entire community really, especially since we are concerned about our health."
Alderman at large W.I. "Doc" Harris said the walking trail will be enjoyed by generations to come.
"Anytime we can add an addition to our existing parks and give them a chance to improve our amenities, it's a plus for our citizens," Harris said.
Ward 3 Alderman Gary Higdon said the new trail is a commitment to pursuing good physical health and activity on behalf of the citizenry.
"It's a continuation of all the things we have done," Higdon said. "We can provide everyone with a nice walking trail and continue to have a healthy city."
Ward 4 Alderman Michael McLendon said he is personally looking forward to enjoying the new walking trail.
"I'm glad it's in the plans," McLendon said. "My wife and I walk through town a lot and this gives us a new place to walk where we are out among nature."
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240. Community Editor Robert Lee Long contributed to this article.