Q&A with Natchez Trace Parkway Acting Chief of Interpretation Mandi Toy

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With more than 10,000 years of human history connected to the area, the Natchez Trace Parkway is among the top 10 most visited National Parks in the country.

Stretching from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, and surrounded by lush greenery and wondrous views, this stretch of land holds myriad activities and adventures alike. From camping to horseback riding, hiking, and everything in between, there’s no lack of excitement to be found along the 444-mile Parkway.

As Acting Chief of Interpretation at Natchez Trace Parkway, part of Mandi Toy’s job is to help people plan through their visit to the Natchez Trace Parkway. She recently spoke with Mud & Magnolias to provide our readers with some tips and her thoughts on the top places to visit along the Trace.

If coming to this Parkway for the first time, where would you suggest people start?

What I would guide people to do to help them pick and choose is to first do a little pre-planning. In order to do that, they can either grab a map, which folks can request from the Main Visitor Center, or download the National Park Service app which has a list of those must-see sites.

What would you recommend for those who are here for a shorter trip versus those who want to travel the whole Parkway?

I recommend picking and choosing a few of those with each visit. If you’re local, and you’re planning a visit for the weekend, maybe pick a couple of different sites. For folks that are going to do the whole Trace, I might plan a couple of days to be on the Parkway and try and hit all of the highlighted spots that you’ll find on the app or the park map.

What stands out to you the most about the Parkway?

When I first came here from out West, one thing that really stood out for me is how much there is to do and see and experience along the Parkway. There’s really something for every interest.

Some of the big things that I would recommend that people do or take advantage of would be to just drive the Parkway; just take a nice leisurely drive. You can take in the scenery, and on a roadway that has less traffic, kind of meander along the landscape. As you’re driving along, I recommend people stop at one of the pullouts and just stretch their legs and take it all in.

What’s something you can do if you decide to pull off at a stop?

If you’re going to take a leisurely drive, pack a nice picnic. There are many pull outs that offer picnic tables along the way, and you can sit and enjoy a picnic lunch and listen to the sounds of the birds. If you happen to be at one of the picnic areas by a creek, you can listen to the water flow and just have a nice relaxing afternoon.

Do you have any must-see sites to recommend?

Stop by and see some of those large, historic wooden signs that tell you a little bit about each location. We have probably around 18 or 20 sites that we highlight as the must-see locations along the entire length of the Parkway. Those can be found on the Parkway map, as well as the Parkway app.

It’s hard to narrow down which to see among those. But I might say, if you’re interested in nature, there are a number of waterfalls that people can stop at. For those who are more connected to history, we have a wide range of historical locations too. Mount Locust down near Natchez, Mississippi, is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the state of Mississippi.

Another important historical point, up in Tennessee, is the location of the death and burial of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark.

There are also several American Indian mound sites that are available to visit.

What about if you’re wanting to be more active? Are there activities to do for that?

Yes, if you’re active and really like hiking or traveling on the trails, the Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail is encompassed within the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s about 60 miles of trail, broken up into five sections throughout the length of the way, making it a great place to get out and hike. Whether you want to hike just a few miles or go a longer distance, depending on where you are on the National Scenic Trail, there are opportunities for both.

What is your favorite part about the Parkway?

There’s so much to do it’s hard to choose. But every few months, I try and pick something different to do. For instance, I try to pick different hikes on each trip, so I actually still have a lot of the National Scenic Trail to experience. One of my favorite stops to stretch my legs going north bound would be Rock Spring. Not to be confused with Rocky Springs. Rock Spring is an area where there are these large stones in the creek for people to walk across. It’s really beautiful.

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service