Volunteers on the Yockanookany Section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail

By Lisa McInnis

The Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is located along the Natchez Trace Parkway, a unit of the National Park Service. Unlike most national trails, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is located entirely within the boundary of the Parkway and is divided into five segments totaling 65 miles. One of the segments is the Yockanookany section, located just north of Jackson, Mississippi. This section of trail was named after the Yockanookany River, which is located nearby. Yockanookany is a Native American term meaning “Land of the Catfish.” The trail supports equestrian use and hiking along its 23 miles.

Like most trails, the Yockanookany is in need of maintenance, ranging from boardwalk and bridge replacements to waterbars and trail tread work. Currently, portions of the trail are closed to horse use due to deferred maintenance of multiple bridges. Local users have expressed willingness to help, but the National Park Service did not have a structured volunteer program in place to educate and manage trail volunteers. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Trails System Act, the Natchez Trace Parkway has worked to change that by developing a trail steward program.

Parkway staff have recently developed a trail maintenance guide for volunteers, and hosted a training to educate interested volunteers, or trail stewards, that would be willing to help lead other volunteers. More than 20 people attended the training. Trainees received instruction on trail safety, working with tools, and trail maintenance specifications. After a classroom session in the morning, trainees went on to the trail and were instructed about proper vegetation control, waterbar maintenance, and overall field safety.

 NPS employee teaching volunteers during the classroom portion of the volunteer training (on a cold January morning!)

NPS employee teaching volunteers during the classroom portion of the volunteer training (on a cold January morning!)

One of the best parts of the training event was learning how important the trail is to volunteers and the community. During the training, Parkway staff were able to engage with all kinds of trail users, and met people that have hiked the whole Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail and many other scenic and historic trails. In addition, one of the volunteers recalled hiking in the footprint of the Yockanookany before it was even designated!

To continue to build the volunteer trail maintenance program, an additional volunteer training event was held on the Highland Rim section of the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail (near Nashville, Tennessee) on National Trails Day in June, 2018. “Building a legacy for volunteer support of the trail is a perfect way to commemorate the important anniversary of the National Trails System Act”, commented Tony Turnbow, Natchez Trace Parkway Association President.

 Newly trained volunteers out on the Yockanookany after the field portion of the training.

Newly trained volunteers out on the Yockanookany after the field portion of the training.

Lisa McInnis is the Chief of Resource Management for the Natchez Trace Parkway.