A rural parkway to connect La. 28 to Fort Polk's Entrance Road, bypassing, U.S. 171 altogether, is one of the primary features of Plan Vernon Parish, a 20-year comprehensive plan for growth and economic development in the parish, while a multi-use trail to connect Fort Polk to Leesville's downtown could begin to take shape as early as this year, if the enthusiasm among area leaders for the idea is any indication.


A rural parkway to connect La. 28 to Fort Polk's Entrance Road, bypassing, U.S. 171 altogether, is one of the primary features of Plan Vernon Parish, a 20-year comprehensive plan for growth and economic development in the parish, while a multi-use trail to connect Fort Polk to Leesville's downtown could begin to take shape as early as this year, if the enthusiasm among area leaders for the idea is any indication.
Wednesday was a day for making connections in Vernon Parish. The Center for Planning Excellence (CPEX), which has been facilitating the creation of Plan Vernon Parish, presented a preliminary version of the plan to a support committee at 10 a.m. at the Vernon Parish Police Jury building.
One of the primary features of the plan includes a rural parkway which would  begin on La. 28 midway between the U.S. 171 intersection and the La. 469 intersection. The parkway would intersect La. 468 and combine with La. 467 for a short distance before branching off again to cross over the KCS spur to Fort Polk and ending at Fort Polk's Entrance Road. 
Liz Drake, a representative of the consultant team working with the parish on creating the plan, said that there was a strong coincidence between the ideas of various agencies in the parish and parish residents concerning where growth should be focused in the parish.
Just last week, Brig. Gen. K.K. Chinn met with Louisiana's Secretary of Transportation, Sherry LeBas, concerning long range planning of highway entrances into Fort Polk.
"We're not just anticipating growth," said Drake. "We're trying to shape it." Several factors have helped focus attention on that area.
The addition of a national cemetery and a V.A. clinic to the area will inevitably increase traffic on La. 467 in the coming years. A more direct route for soldiers wanting to travel to Alexandria, the completion of the four-laning of La. 28 as well as Fort Polk's encouragement of the surrounding communities to absorb more and more housing for soldiers and their families all combine to shine a light on the areas surrounding La. 467 and La. 468.
Planners envision  growth would occur near each of the four highway intersections along the parkway: La. 28, La. 468, La. 467 and Entrance Road, with new subdivisions and retail options. Achieving the plan would require large portions of the property to be annexed by the City of Leesville, so that zoning and infrastructure could be applied to the area.
In effect, the parkway would create a new "spine for growth" in Vernon Parish.
The parkway is certainly not a mandate, said Drake, but rather a recommendation for the residents of the parish to consider.
"When you're thinking about the parish 50 years from now, you have to think about what kind of investment you want to make," Drake added. The parkway would be the biggest capital investment to come out of the plan.
Plan Vernon Parish is still under construction. A draft of the document is set to be delivered to the police jury for internal review by June 10. An open house is set for June 21. 
A rural parkway wasn't the only connection discussed Wednesday; later in the afternoon, many of the same stakeholders who attended the CPEX meeting met to consider first steps on a grassroots effort, inspired by Chinn, to develop a multi-use trail along La. 467 to connect Fort Polk with downtown Leesville.
James Turner, a board member for the Leesville Main Street District and the Museum of West Central Louisiana as well as a landscape architect, said he met Chinn at a cocktail party and the two began discussing ways to connect Fort Polk and Leesville. Turner told those in attendance, tongue-in-cheek, that the general had assigned him the project, before sharing his ideas on how the trail would look as well as how it could be accomplished relatively inexpensively.
The distance between the La. 467 Fort Polk entrance and downtown Leesville is almost exactly five miles: "a nice, healthy distance," said Turner, especially for soldiers, bicyclists, runners and hikers. 
Those in attendance included Jeanne-Marie Ganucheau, a smart-growth coordinator for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu; Master Sgt. Arron Loughride, sergeant major of Fort Polk's Directorate of Public Works; Scotty Goins, chief of the planning division at Fort Polk's Directorate of Public Works; Haley Blakeman, project manager for CPEX; Robby Mayes, an engineer with the Louisiana Department of Transporation and Development; Rhonda Plummer, secretary-treasurer of the Vernon Parish Police Jury, Leesville Mayor Robert Rose and City Administrator Hugh King.
"It' the kind of thing that could be done in stages," said Turner, who said he wanted to get feedback from the leaders on a logical next step for the project. "Long range, it could become part of the circulation psychology of the parish."
Plummer and Ganucheau both had ideas on ways to seek funding for the project, while others contributed ideas on how to overcome possible obstacles, how to develop the project in stages and what features could be included in the project.
Goins suggested that a map of the proposed trail as well as a profile be submitted to DOTD as a first step.
Turner said if the project is deemed possible by DOTD, which owns the right-of-way where much the trail would exist, then leaders could meet again, perhaps as early as mid-June, to discuss grant-seeking as well as beginning work.