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VOL. 126 | NO. 26 | Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Bridge Deal Could Bring 600-Mile River Bike Trail

By Bill Dries

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If plans materialize for a pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk on the north side of the Harahan rail bridge, the access areas on both sides of the Mississippi River near the bridge would change rapidly.

And the change could create momentum for a regional trail system using the Arkansas levee system.

Union Pacific Corp. officials including CEO James Young agreed last week to work with the city of Memphis and Crittenden County, Ark., officials toward the river crossing.

“We’ve agreed to use their language, to get it done. … Now the hard work starts,” Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. said after the group returned Friday evening to Memphis.

The work includes finding a way to ease concerns the railroad has about maintaining security. The plan is that the boardwalk would not cross the railroad tracks. But Union Pacific officials want to make sure there isn’t a way to gain access to the tracks even without a crossing.

Bicycling enthusiast Charles McVean, who has become a promoter of developing a regional system of trails and greenways, said Martyrs Park would be the entrance to the boardwalk on the Memphis side.

What is now a small park with a memorial to victims of the series of 19th century yellow fever outbreaks would be the focal point of a much busier and much more used 400-yard middle ground. That’s the distance between the still-existing access ramps to the bridge and the terminus of riverside trails.

The other side of the river would need more in the way of access ways to the West Memphis end of the bridge.

From there, the Arkansas levee system begins on what is a flood plain.

Arkansas state Rep. Keith Ingram, a former mayor of West Memphis, said there are already plans to make that levee system part of a state park. It depends on negotiations to come with levee boards in the region.

“Our levee system in Arkansas will be able to tie in all of the way down, hopefully to Horseshoe Lake and then into the White River Refuge,” Ingram said. “That would be a world-class tourist destination for this region.”

McVean said the levee park being discussed is essential to moving from a local system of trails to a regional system.

“I’m not saying anything detrimental about southeast Arkansas, but there are not many people out there,” McVean said of the Arkansas side of such a trail.

“We’ve got the big river country right here. You get out here 10 miles from Memphis and you are out in the wide open spaces.”

By moving farther south down the river, it could eventually link up with the 120-mile pedestrian and bike trial being developed between Baton Rouge and New Orleans in Louisiana.

“If that happens, nothing will stop this great river bike trail from running from New Orleans to St. Louis – a total of over 600 miles,” McVean said. “If that is accomplished that will simply be the greatest bike trail on the face of the earth.”

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