PHOTO: The shadow of the Natchez Trace Bridge looms over New Highway 96 West in Williamson County. / Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
The Natchez Trace Parkway could install emergency call boxes at the Double Arch Bridge in Williamson County as soon as January 1, 2019.
The National Park Service has been working towards getting the call boxes for the past year, a recognition of the high number of suicides at the spot.
Signs urging visitors to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline already stand at each end of the bridge.
Sarah Davis, the chief ranger for the Natchez Trace Parkway, said all additions to parkland have to go through the National Environmental Policy Act, as the 444-mile long parkway is federally-owned and operated.
After submitting a proposal to the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC), Davis and others met with the state State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).
The proposal recently received compliance, and the National Park Service is in the process of purchasing the boxes and radios needed to operate them in an area with little to no wireless service, Davis said.
There will be two solar-powered call boxes, one at each end of the bridge. Existing signs will be rearranged, Davis said, to minimize impact to the viewshed.
A special Home Page report on over 31 suicide deaths from the bridge since 2000 has galvanized many, including Spring Hill woman Trish Merelo, who shared about the loss of her teenage son, John Miller, from the bridge in 2016.
They hope to enact change by starting a conversation about the dangerously low railings of the bridge, and eventually placing some type of barrier to deter suicides.
So far, Merelo said the response towards the page has been overwhelmingly supportive.
Within two weeks, the page has more than 400 followers, with reactions ranging from surprise to gratitude that someone is finally speaking out about a problem that has long plagued the community.
“I’m happy to see the NPS take this step toward preventing suicide at the bridge,” Merelo said of the phone installations. “But our end game remains some type of barrier.”
She cited a report from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline published in 2008, in which they take a stance that bridge barriers are the most effective way to reduce suicides at those locations.
“The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s position on call boxes is they’re a supplement to barriers, and that barriers are the only real impediment to bridge suicide,” Merelo said.
Merelo urges those interested in the issue to contact their congressman.
“When you look at these numbers, there is no political downside to supporting barriers,” she finished. “These numbers are alarming. It’s a call to action. We have a responsibility when we know how to do what we know needs to be done.”
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