Trails in the woods hold inherent dangers — whether it’s a mountain trail in the Appalachians, famous for losing hikers, or one in your own backyard, such as the Tuxachanie Trail in the De Soto National Forest.
Hikers are aware of extreme weather and rough terrain on mountain trials, but even on the Coast, unprepared hikers who get lost can become dehydrated or caught out in the cold.
There’s a team that is accustomed to responding to hikers on the Tuxachanie — firefighters and first responders from Stone and Harrison counties and Wiggins; the National Forest Service; and the American Medical Response ambulance service.
Hiking the Tuxachanie isn’t a high-risk thing as long as you’re sensible.
Lisa Yager, acting district ranger
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Teams spent two hours Saturday night searching for a 61-year-old woman. She was dehydrated by the time she was found and was taken to a Coast hospital, though her injuries were not life-threatening.
The Tuxachanie is fairly tame terrain, but it does have rolling hills and meanders through wetlands. The most popular portion is the 5 miles from U.S. 49 to Airey Lake. The trail is marked by use and some man-made bridges and stone paths, but it doesn’t have trail markers. Once you’re on it, you’re on your own.
In all, it’s 11 miles of Mississippi woods — and it doesn’t loop back. So however far you walk into the woods is how far you’ll be walking back to your car or camp site.
For locals who exercise on the trail, it works well, said Lisa Yager, acting ranger for the U.S. Forest Service district.
“You run in a mile and run back out a mile,” Yager said.
It’s the visitor who is hiking on a whim and isn’t properly prepared or the elderly alone or in a group who overestimate their stamina who are likely to have problems.
Harrison County Fire Chief Pat Sullivan has seen many scenarios when rescuing hikers. Some get off the trail and can’t find their way back. Some get hurt or have a medical episode.
“Remember, you don’t have street signs,” he said. “We’ll get someone who says, ‘I traveled about a half-mile and I’m between this point and this crossing.’ That’s a good one.”
He has had them as vague as, “I left my car on Highway 49 and I’ve been walking about two hours.”
Some get off the trail looking for a shortcut back.
Cellphone coverage can be unreliable. Sometimes hikers call the National Forest Service dispatch and sometimes calls go right to 911, which is better equipped for medical issues.
Summer is the more common time people call for help because they run out of water.
“Hiking the Tuxachanie isn’t a high-risk thing as long as you’re sensible,” Yager said.
If you’re prepared, it’s fun.
“If you’re not prepared, it could be a bad situation,” Yager said. “Every once in awhile, we haul someone out in an ambulance.”
Sun Herald reporter Justin Vicory contributed to this report.
US Forest Service description of the Tuxachanie Trial
- The first 5 miles (between the trail head on U.S. 49 and the Airey Campground) offer a variety of habitats.
- The trail crosses various wetlands including sloughs, creeks, ponds, pitcher-plant bogs and lowland swamps. Intermixed with these wet habitats are acres of dry, sandy longleaf-pine woods.
- There is even a small beech-magnolia forest about a mile from the trail head. This section of trail follows an abandoned logging railroad built in the early 1900s by immigrants using hand tools and mule-drawn earth movers.
- Visitors enter the trail through long rows of Live oaks planted at the site in 1935. The trail is fairly flat and easy walking and includes several sections of wooden footbridges. A short section of the trail is shared by a horse trail.
For safe hiking on the Tuxachanie
- Have a map and be aware of where you are on the trail. Note landmarks you’ve passed.
- Stay on the path. Once off, all the woods start looking alike and all bets are off.
- Bulletin boards posted at the trail heads off U.S. 49, at the P.O.W. Camp recreation area and at Airey Lake list an emergency number — keep it handy.
- Take plenty of water and extra clothes for a drop in temperature.
- Make sure the cellphone is well charged; bring two or an extra charge.
- Know the trail doesn’t loop around. The distance you walk in, you’ll need to have the energy to walk out.
- Decide how far you want to commit to. Assess the abilities of everyone in a group.