If You Build It: Dallis Ketchum on the Belhaven Mountain Bike Trails
When you think of Jackson, mountain biking usually isn't the first thing that comes to mind. Local real estate broker Dallis Ketchum is looking to change that.
"I've been an avid cyclist slash self-proclaimed bike nerd since I was a kid growing up in Memphis," Ketchum said. "Mountain biking in the early 90s was just arriving on the scene in areas that weren't California or Bend, Oregon. It was making its way to the Mid South, and I spent many weekends riding the Wolf River Trails [at Shelby Farms]."
Ketchum, who owns the real estate group NeighborHouse, arrived in Mississippi's capital city in 2005 and has been looking toward its future ever since. In thinking through an accessible trail system, he enlisted the expertise of the Tri-County Mountain Bike Association, which secures land access and supports the preservation and development of five trail systems in the larger Jackson area. Through their help, along with Ketchum and his self-professed "merry band of mountain bike misfits," the Belhaven Mountain Bike Trails were born.
"Our Neighborhouse offices are in Belhaven, and I live just down the street," Ketchum said. "So, I have a real enthusiasm for the community in Jackson. I love our home, and I believe there's a whole lot to be really excited about here. As is the nature of grassroots movements, they develop enthusiastic followings. The Belhaven Mountain Bike Trails project has been no different."
On a lemon wedge-shaped plot of land on the east side of the historic neighborhood sit The Belhaven Mountain Bike Trails. Visitors can easily access them from the Museum Trail, the main paved vein connecting the Two Museums to the Mississippi Children's Museum. In January 2021, the Greater Belhaven Foundation granted the Mountain Bike Trails a memorandum, with construction taking place since January 2022.
"As of June, there are about 3.5 miles of trail," Ketchum said. "When we're done, we're hoping it will be double that. I want to stress that it's open to everyone - all runners, riders, wanderers, mamas, dads, teenagers, dog walkers - anybody."
Ketchum said that although there are a couple of holes to be mindful of, the mostly contiguous MDOT fence running the perimeter of I-55 allows dog owners to take a break from the trail to let their pets off the leash and run around.
"We'd love to have as many people out there that want to be," Ketchum said. "The trails are not technical - they're for all riders in all stages. It's safe back there, too. Where you create recreational opportunity, people come, and when people come, the light scatters the darkness."
Pedestrians and wildlife enthusiasts alike can also look forward to seeing local flora and fauna, which thrive off of the two streams marking the Trail's boundaries, Belhaven Creek and Moody Branch Creek.
"When Belhaven was first established nearly 100 years ago, [Moody Branch] was the local swimming hole for children in the neighborhood," Ketchum said. "This place has historically always been for recreational use. It has had runners, riders, and kids building forts on it for virtually a century. There's something really special about that."
A recent moment that brought Ketchum and the project full circle happened during one of his typical runs through the Trails. "My wife and I have three kids, and I was trail running back there," Ketchum said. "I came to a portion of the trails where they pass each other. Unbeknownst to me, my 13-year-old was on his mountain bike coming right at me, yelling, 'Hey, Dad!' It brings my heart great joy to see a whole new generation of mountain bikers and cyclists who are growing up and will be using these trails."
Ketchum and the Belhaven Mountain Bike Trails group's biggest hope is that, as the trails keep expanding, visitors' and locals' investment and pride in them and the city will, too.
"We want to be known as a group that is working for the city, that doesn't have any ownership over this," Ketchum said. "This is something that we hold with palms face up, and we want people to come and use it for their health and happiness. We've found that the more that we can connect our city through paved and unpaved trail systems, the more connected its people are. It's a great place to live, and I think our communities can love each other well by being united as cyclists and pedestrians. One thing about Jacksonians - we show up to support the new, exciting things happening here."
To learn more and to purchase a t-shirt that benefits the Trails, visit their website and social media pages.