More than three thousand Europeans visited Jackson during the 1940s. But for many of them, it wasn’t by their own volition.
They were taken to Camp Clinton, a former prisoner-of-war camp, which housed enemy combatants during World War II. Twenty-five generals were among the many prisoners, which consisted mostly of Germans and Italians captured in North Africa during the war.
But today, the 290-acre site off McRaven Road has taken on a new role.
It’s now known as Choctaw Trails, a cross country course that plays host to dozens of events each year, including the Mississippi High School Activities Association’s state cross country meet.
It will host the championships again today, beginning at 10 a.m.
But more than 70 years ago, Choctaw Trails had a different purpose. Some of the prisoners constructed a Mississippi River Basin Model used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was used to help predict floods on along the Mississippi River and its tributaries.
When the war ended and the prisoners returned home, the land was owned by the Hederman brothers, who gave it to its current owner — Mississippi College.
“It was given to Mississippi College under the strict guidelines that it would be used for public use,” MC cross country and track coach Butch Ard said. “In the early ’70s, it was used for a cross country course, but it was not like it is now. They basically ran on the roads.”
Former Mississippi College cross country coach Billy Lamb is credited for evolving the course to its current state, Ard said. Lamb and Pearl High cross country coach Woody Barnett laid out the course in 1980.
“Since I’ve been here, we have upgraded it,” Ard said. “We’ve taken out a lot of the ditches and things like that. The way we maintain it now, it looks more like a golf course.”
Choctaw Trails has courses for eight different distances with the ability to host everything from a 2K to a 10K race.
“We have a course for everything that anybody wants to run,” Ard said.
In addition to meets hosted by MC and the MHSAA, the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools holds its state meets there, along with Jackson Public Schools and the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which holds its conference championships at the site. In 1986 and ’88, the NCAA held its Division II national championships at Choctaw Trails.
The final 200 meters is all uphill; Choctaw Trails’ version of the infamous Heartbreak Hill at the Boston Marathon.
“There are people who say, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to run up that hill,'” Ard said. He described the course as “spectator friendly” because there are places along each course where the runners emerge from the woods. “You can see who’s winning throughout the whole race.”