Ridgeland is known as the healthiest hometown in Mississippi! We spoke with Chris Chapman, CEO and President of the Ridgeland Tourism Commission, about how their community, full of outdoor activities, is fairing in 2020. A boutique community with nature trails, BMX tracks, and nine miles of biking lanes, it’s a great place to enjoy the outdoors!
Anna: Hello, everyone. And welcome to another episode of Main and Mulberry. I’m Anna Bell, and today I’m so thankful to have with us the President and CEO of Ridgeland Tourism Commission in Ridgeland, Mississippi, Chris Chapman. Chris, thank you so much for being with us today. We’re really excited to have you on the show.
Chris: Hi, Hannah. I’m very happy to be here and I appreciate you reaching out to Ridgeland Tourism.
Anna: Yes, absolutely. I mean, Chris, can you believe that we’re already into July. Ss hot as it is outside, you could believe it, but I can’t believe we’re in the summer months already.
Chris: I know. I truly feel like we just took a nap in March, and then we’ve just now woken up.
Anna: I’m right there with you. I can believe it, and I bet, under normal circumstances, that the summer months would probably see an uptick in tourism for Ridgeland.
Chris: Can you paint a picture for us, as a tourist? What can we expect to experience when we come to visit their area?
Anna: Well luckily, we’ve been very fortunate during the COVID period, in that a lot of our assets are COVID-friendly. Now, certainly we did have the shutdown of our boutique restaurants and our shopping. We have just tremendous shopping assets here, but because we have a 444 mile track of Natchez Trace Parkway running right through the heart of Ridgeland, and it connects Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. That Parkway is totally COVID-friendly. You can bike it, you can hike it, you can drive it. And then all along the way, there’s so many outdoor treasures that you can take in for your visit. And certainly when we were all home with children, mine were grown (thank you, Lord), but finding things to do for them, I’m sure was very difficult and having these outdoor assets is just tremendous.
Anna: Oh, that’s so awesome. I love to hear about that outdoor walkway. You know, I bet a lot of people come to visit that. I also have heard of a Barnett reservoir with some water activity. Is that right?
Chris: Yes. We have, in addition to the natural choice park way, connected to the Parkway is the Barnett reservoir. And it is a 33,000 acre Lake with over a hundred miles of shoreline. So we call ourselves a waterfront community because we truly are. Ridgeland sits right on the Ridge of the Barnett reservoir, hence the name of Ridgelandland, and we are fortunate to have every kind of outdoor activity activity that you can imagine at the reservoir, including fishing, boating, kayaking, hunting, watersports, everything, picnicking, and you know, all of the wonderful outdoor things that you love to do in the summertime. We’ve been able to do that. There was a short period where our boating, our ability to get on the lake was closed down during kind of the height of distancing, and our governor had made a decision that he would kind of close that area down, the parks around the reservoir, so that there would not be people congregating in groups, but now everybody is pretty school knows what to do and what not to do and how to do it safely, as well as families getting together exclusively, you know, everyone in their family pod. So those areas, all of the picnicking areas and the sightseeing areas, have all opened up, and the boating and fishing is all back. And it’s just been a wonderful reprieve from everybody being inside and not being able to enjoy that. But in addition to that asset, we have a multi-use trail, which includes a lot of Indian and Choctaw heritage called the Chicha Foka Trail. That is a 15-mile trail that is connected to the multi-use trail. And it runs through that whole area along the trace. It runs along the Barnett reservoir and it includes just beautiful outdoor birds, and foliage, and views of the leg. So it’s, it’s just a wonderful getaway for an individual, or a couple, or family pod. Again, try to keep people safe and keep them in their own units. But people have pretty much fallen in that category of doing the right thing.
Anna: It sounds like when we come and visit Ridgeland, we need to bring us a bike or maybe a good pair of tennis shoes. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of outdoor activities, and you haven’t missed a beat during all of this.
Chris: We do, Anna. We’re also called, Richland has received the highest marks from our major healthcare healthcare carrier, Blue Cross, and we’re called the healthiest hometown in Mississippi. We continuously get that honor, because I guess we have fewer claims from our area, but we truly are a very outdoor and physically active group of people because not only do you see people on the trails, but you see the people biking and boating and just people getting out and trying to stay healthy. We also have a BMX track that is 10-mile long BMX track in Ridgeland. And then there’s another single track, which I believe they call the Mighty Mountain Bike Trials, and that’s also 10 miles. In addition to that, we have nine miles of street bicycling lanes within the city of Ridgeland where you can just get on the street and you have a bicycle lane where you can go to areas, boutiques, and shopping, and dining, and go grab your beer on the water and things of that nature.
Anna: Oh, wow. That sounds like a lot of fun and somewhere you can really enjoy yourself, but I’m sure you’re bound to work up an appetite, after being outside and enjoying yourself like that. What kind of good food can we expect to find when we come to Ridgeland?
Chris: You know, we have a little bit of everything. We’re called the Steakhouse Capital of Mississippi. We have eight home-owned steakhouses in Mississippi that are the finest that you will ever find. So we’re pretty big on our steaks, but then your healthy community, you will find a lot of vegan, Asian, gluten-free, allergy-conscious menus that, you know, have specialty organic. We have a cafe crossroads that has organic food. We have just about everything, but one thing that is very consistent with Ridgeland is, well, we have, for one thing, we have over 150 restaurants, which in our small little… Ridgeland is small on the map. You know, we’re a boutique community.
Anna: What do you mean by that, Chris? A boutique community, can you explain that?
Chris: Yes, a boutique community and destination is one that specializes in particular niches that you are looking for, something really special and unique. You don’t have a lot of big-box stores, but we’re very proud of the Costco that just landed in Ridgeland. When COVID hit, we all needed that toilet paper, right? The sanitizing wipes and all that. And they were able to really be wonderful for, to stay healthy. But we just have that boutique community, where you can go in and find some things that are really different and special. We have a lot of artists in our community. The one and only Mississippi Craftsmen’s Guild is in Ridgeland. It’s the only one in the state, and it showcases crafts from all over the state, here in Richland. There are also other artisans that have put their art into the Crafts center, and those people are members of our Craftsmen’s Guild. We’re very fortunate to have those artists and we have many art galleries. So we’re an artist and antiques haven for those art buffs. And we have 16 hotels right here in Richland, which is kind of hard to believe again, when you think about how small we all are, but we’re a tourist destination.
Anna: Wow. That’s great. Speaking of art, you know, I immediately start to think, too, about musicians and the music scene in Bridgeland. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?
Chris: I can. We have a big event in April every year, although in 2021, where since it was canceled this year, we’re taking the liberty of moving it to the first weekend of May, and we have a selection. It is the Richland Con Arts Festival, and it encompasses the largest wine show in the South, called Santa South. It encompassse a run, which is a 5K run, which is sponsored by Fleet Feet of Richmond. And then we have a bicycle, a cycling event, that goes along with it, and that is called the Natchez Trace Century Ride. And also, we have musicians from mostly Mississippi, all of our local acts that come and play during the two days of the festival. And we have two stages where our musicians are highlighted during that time. These are musicians that are playing in all kinds of joints. If you want to call ‘em that, the little bars and eateries around town, and you’ll find them throughout the year, but we want to focus on them during the fine arts festival and give them a little “hello.”
Anna: That’s right. Yeah.
Chris: So they’re playing during that time, and we truly love them. Now during COVID, our musicians came to us and said, “What can we do for you?” And we were like, “Well, you’re the ones that are completely out of work. You know, what can we do for you?” But they came back to us and did a Visit Ridgeland Spotify playlist, and we put that out on social media, and they just got together and they put all the songs together that would be playing in Ridgeland right now, on all the patios and the cycling areas and out of the reservoir with boaters and fishermen, put all that music together and put it on playlist. And it was a wonderful gift.
Anna: Isn’t it so refreshing to see people come together, even during times of trouble to find a way to kind of still connect with one another. That’s so refreshing to hear.
Chris: It is, it is, and they did. And Mississippi and I know all across the South, that’s pretty traditional, but I am told that Mississippians are the most giving people in the entire world, as far as charitable giving that Mississippi, you know, we, we may be last in a lot of things, but I think sometimes you gotta look at the first and the right thing, and that’s what’s right about Mississippi. And of course we know we just went through a flag change and we’re very thankful that our legislators stepped up to the plate, and they have voted to take the old flag down, and we will be voting on a new flag art, I guess you would say, or a new design very soon. And for those of us who have been proponents, which I have to say, you kind of hear from the negative people more than you hear from the positive, but I have to say, the majority of Mississippians have been wanting this for a very long time and were very happy about it.
Chris: Now that we have a really good idea, you’ve really painted a picture for us of what all we can experience when we come to Ridgeland, you know, how are things currently in light of the COVID-19 pandemic? How are you guys operating right now?
Anna: Well, we had just come back to the office. I guess we’ve been back two or three weeks, but we were home, working from home. We had to close the visitors center, obviously, because we could not have people coming in because we were not able to disinfect properly to make sure people were safe. We did reopen the visitor center today, and those hours are limited now from 10 to 4, but we have everything in place that we need in order to keep our visitors safe. As you come in the door, you have a sanitizing station, you have a glove station, where you can put out disposable gloves and go through the literature that you may want to look at. We have sneeze guards out of the front desk, and so we’re also utilizing a company to do professional cleaning and make sure that we’re getting sanitized properly and regularly. So I feel very confident that we are ready to greet our visitors back and that we just want them to be safe and healthy, and we’re going to do everything that we possibly can to make sure that happens.
Anna: As we kind of wrap things up Chris, from a tourism standpoint, what have been your biggest takeaways from this entire experience in a particularly trying time, what have been some of the biggest takeaways for you?
Chris: I think it would be that, we’re stronger than we thought we were, you know, and in the beginning, and I know it’s still scary. It’s not over. COVID is not gone. But the adaptability, I believe, for our hometown has been incredible. We have a mayor who is a wonderful advocate for tourism and people in general. And I think that you kind of see that love throughout the community. And I just believe that we can get through whatever life brings. We’ll figure out a way to do it, and our faith is very strong. Our faith is something that we carry with us throughout this season, and we’re not ashamed of that, and we’re very happy to be able to share that with us.
Anna: That’s wonderful. Well, Chris, we just want to thank you so much for your time and your insight today sharing with us all the things that you’re doing in Ridgeland, Mississippi. So thank you again for your time.
Chris: Thank you, Anna. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you and good luck to Main and Mulberry.
Anna: Yes, and something to look forward to, us planning a visit to the Ridgeland, Mississippi soon, huh?
Chris: Please, please. We would love to have you, as soon as it’s safe for you to travel, you come, and we will show you around.
Anna: That sounds good. Well, we appreciate it. Until next time guys, I’m Anna Bell, sending you all well wishes.