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Recreation Haven: Discover the Outdoors in Jackson, TN

A new restoration project will boost outdoor recreation

By Sam Boykin on December 13, 2017

Conceptual rendering for the Middle Fork Forked Deer Stream and Floodplain Restoration Project

Local officials have launched an ambitious project that will provide a bounty of new outdoor recreational opportunities.

The Middle Fork Forked Deer Stream and Floodplain Restoration Project is transforming about 850 acres in Madison and neighboring Gibson County. Plans call for about 5 miles of pedestrian-friendly boardwalks, along with biking and hiking trails, man-made wetlands, wildlife viewing areas, and a 10-acre lake with easy access for boating and fishing. The project is expected to be finished by 2020.

“It’s going to be a brand-new recreational space for our community,” says Kyle Spurgeon, president and CEO of the Jackson chamber.

Just to the south, another restoration will create a 3-mile walking/biking path connecting downtown Jackson to Bemis.

“These projects will help encourage people to get outside and explore their neighboring communities,” Spurgeon says. “It’s a real opportunity to improve our quality of life.”

To carry out these projects, the West Tennessee River Basin Authority received a $23 million grant through the National Disaster Resilience Competition from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The funding aims to help restore areas most affected by significant flooding in parts of West and Middle Tennessee in May 2010.

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“While the grant is designed to rebuild floodways and prepare the county for the next big storm, we’re also creating pedestrian-friendly elements that provide educational and recreational opportunities,” says Dusty Mayes, project manager at Kimley-Horn, a planning and design engineering consultant that is overseeing the expansive restoration project.

Mayes explains that much of the acreage being restored was agricultural fields, where farmers created levies to protect crops and prevent flooding. This project will tear down portions of those levies and incorporate stream restoration and a natural system of creeks and rivers to help catch runoff and sediment and provide more flood storage.

“The area is going to be safer and also a real destination for outdoor activities,” Mayes says.

Moreover, it’s going to provide the region with an economic development boost,” Spurgeon says. “In order to recruit good companies and good people to the area and retain the talent that’s already here, you need a high quality of life, and recreation is a huge part of that.”

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Existing Places to Play

The restoration project is building on an already impressive foundation of outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the area. Jackson Recreation and Parks Department has been nationally recognized for its variety and depth of program services and its parks system, for which it has ranked in the top 20 nationally for cities of similar size. The department operates 12 parks, many of which feature athletic fields, tennis courts, playgrounds, picnic areas, fishing lakes and walking trails.

There’s also the West Tennessee Healthcare Sportsplex, a 70-acre, 17-field baseball/softball complex that hosts traveling youth tournaments. Guests here can enjoy a vibrant mixed-use commercial corridor around the complex, and over 2,500 hotel rooms, more than 200 restaurants and 2 million square feet of retail shops, along with museums and unique entertainment facilities within a five minute drive.

In addition, Madison County offers a variety of outdoor activities for the entire family, with seven parks and two historic sites, including a Civil War battlefield with a log cabin. Ed Smith, executive director at Madison County Parks and Recreation, says other local highlights include a BMX racetrack, rodeos, equestrian centers and historic reenactments. Another not-to-miss county destination is Chigger Ridge, a 30-acre nature preserve with an expansive pond and scenic wooded areas.

Other notable recreational opportunities include the Andrew Jackson Marathon. Known as the oldest marathon in Tennessee, the competition started in 1972 and takes runners through the scenic downtown area along tree-lined streets past the University of Memphis Lambuth Campus Arboretum.

Looking to the future, the Jackson Area Metropolitan Planning Organization is putting together a long-range biking/pedestrian plan to further improve regional connectivity and enhance the area’s outdoor lifestyle. And Zagster is launching a Jackson bike-sharing program in 2018.

Moreover, Jackson is just a short drive from several state parks, including Reelfoot Lake in northwest Tennessee. The 25,000-acre park is a popular destination for fishing, boating and wildlife viewing, with about 5 miles of hiking trails. If you visit during January or February, look for the thousands of American bald eagles that call this park home during the winter.

At Chickasaw State Park in Henderson, enjoy rustic hiking trails that wind through deep forests where Chickasaw Indians once lived. The park is situated on some of the highest terrain in West Tennessee, and has a lake where you can rent rowboats and pedal boats. Horseback riding is another popular activity at the park, with guided trails and a fully equipped stable. Finally, Paris Landing State Park and Pickwick State Park – northeast and southeast respectively from Jackson – sit on the scenic Tennessee River and offer boating, golf courses, lodging and other recreational activities.

 

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