PHOTO: The shadow of Natchez Trace Bridge being cast over Highway 96. / Photo by Brooke Wanser
WARNING: This story contains information about suicide. If you or a loved one is thinking about suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-8255. The NSPL provides 24-hour, free support to those in distress, as well as prevention and crisis resources for you or loved ones.
BY ALEXANDER WILLIS
The iconic Natchez Trace Bridge in northwest Williamson County has long been plagued as a hotspot for suicides, with at least 32 people losing their lives there as of June, 2019.
While recently revealed plans to instal barriers on the bridge may not come to fruition for years, emergency phone boxes that connect directly to emergency services will be up and operational on Aug. 27, according to Natchez Trace Parkway Superintendent Mary Risser.
Currently, the bridge has two signs with text that urges those in emotional crisis to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, as well as the message, “there is hope.” Once the phone boxes are up and operational near the end of August, those suffering an emotional crisis will have the ability to get live support and consultation – whether they have a phone with them or not.
The phone boxes will be solar-powered, and placed at each end of the bridge. The existing signs will be rearranged as to not minimize the impact of the viewshed, according to Sarah Davis, chief ranger for the Natchez Trace Parkway.
Announced in October of last year, the implementation of phone boxes on Natchez Trace Bridge took over a year to come to fruition due to the Natchez Trace Parkway – the 444 mile-long highway of which the bridge is a part of – being federally owned. Put simply, any additions to the bridge must adhere to federal standards, which can often see a lengthy bureaucratic process.
“The federal government is bound by a lot of regulations that a state and local landowner doesn’t have to go through,” Davis had previously stated. “The bridge is itself a national, cultural resource.”
Despite the lengthy process, National Park Service staff hopes the phone boxes will help those suffering an emotional crisis at the bridge, and are also continuing their efforts in seeing barriers finally constructed. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2023.