Saturday, December 3, 2022

Oxford Stories: The Beauty of Whirlpool Trails

Oxford is a beautiful, historic and unique town that is constantly buzzing with activity. While the historic Square and the award-winning beautiful Ole Miss campus are certainly a sight for sore eyes, one of the lesser-known treasures of the city are the Whirlpool Trails.

The “trails,” as they are referred to by many, originate in the wooded area at the end of Coliseum Drive across from Highway 6 just down the street from the University of Mississippi campus.

The 26-mile-long network of path paves the way through some of the city’s most beautiful and also most unknown natural scenery. The trails include three different routes for a walker, runner or biker. The most used is the “red trail,” which is a three-mile stretch of a smooth dirt and gravel pathway that is, for the most part, flat.

The “blue trail” is a two-mile windy route composed of rough and hilly pathways. The “green trail” is the most difficult and the most extensive. Also known as the “side trails,” they are used mostly by mountain bikes seeking adventure and thrill.

A look into the “green trails.”
A look into the “green trails.”

The trails provide a relaxing haven for students, faculty and Oxford locals to escape the stress of the city and campus and be immersed in the quiet bliss of the natural world. While located close to campus and the Square, the trails provide a feeling of tranquility and seclusion from civilization and the hustle and bustle of everyday life, if only for a short while.

Hadleigh Lynch, a University of Mississippi senior, frequents the trails with her boyfriend Brady Faulkner, a graduate student. Anytime there is a nice day, they walk Faulkner’s dog, Scout. The trails offer a sanctuary for humans and animals alike.

“I love going to the trails because it is a nice break from walking Scout around my neighborhood and around town,” Lynch said. “It is also incredibly beautiful and calming.”

The trails provide a sensory experience in every aspect. Apart from the apparent aesthetically pleasing visual component, the trials allow for an auditory, olfactory and somatosensory perceptions.

One can hear the crunch of the leaves and nature beneath their feet as they run or walk, or as the tires of their bike glide over the path and crush anything underneath. One can hear the birds chirping, the animals in the woods scurrying around, and the echo of the cars on Coliseum Drive come to a fade as they advance farther down the path and become more immersed in their surroundings.

Gentle chatter of the runners, walkers and bikers can be heard, which provides an interesting parallel when combined with the serene silence the seclusion provides. The pitter patter of rain can be heard against the trees and path during an afternoon storm or fast-approaching bout of a downpour, and the howling wind can be heard whistling against the branches and open air on a breezy day.

After a rainstorm, a wet, earthy and refreshing smell overwhelms anyone who walks the path, and one can feel the soft earth beneath their feet. On a warm, sunny day, a crisp and fresh scent fills the nostrils, and one can feel the leaves, sticks and rocks moving and shifting underneath them. On a breezy day, the air can be felt against one’s skin.

Arguably the most obvious and overcoming sensory experience one encounters on the trails is visual. The trails begin on the side of a road with signs advertising that no unauthorized vehicles are allowed beyond that point and the entry gate must remain clear and unobstructed.

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At a first glance down the trail, one who is unfamiliar with the path may not have any idea how far it continues or where it ends. That is part of the magic of Whirlpool.

The dirt and gravel path winds and twists through miles of wildlife. Trees, open nature, side paths, kudzu and more are among the sights one encounters on the trails.

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In the summer and spring, the trails are overgrown with green. The grass is vibrant, the kudzu is full and the branches are teeming with growth. In the fall, the trails have a different look, with colored leaves lining the trail and covering the entire path. The leaves turn to brown eventually, and the winter months bring about a different scene entirely. The trees are barren, the path is clear, and one can see far into the sides of the path on the “side trails” that one would not typically be able to see in the greener months.

As one continues down the most commonly used three-mile path, it becomes less populated. The first few miles are typically busy with dog-walkers, exercisers and leisure-walkers. The farther one goes, however, he or she becomes more secluded and alone with nature. It all depends what kind of experience a person wants, they can be around a lot of people, or be completely alone.

A view down the path.
A view down the path.

On an unusually nice day, it will seem that the trails are extremely crowded and a “regular” of the paths might become agitated. While some trail-goers are regulars and others are merely visitors, the trails offer a unique and special experience for each person.


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Joanie Sanders can be reached at jgsander@go.olemiss.edu.

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