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VOL. 125 | NO. 239 | Thursday, December 9, 2010

Connection Challenge

Linking trails imperative for county’s green print

By Bill Dries

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The search is on for dozens of connections among Shelby County’s major greenways and greenlines, which will enhance the area’s overall “green print.”

The Shelby Farms Greenline drew large crowds even before its formal opening earlier this year. The greenline's crossing at Highland Avenue has become a busy one. The success of the pedestrian and bicycle pathway has spawned efforts to build more connections to link to other trails, paths and greenways – some developed, others just plans. (Photo: Lance Murphey)

The recent openings of the Wolf River Greenway’s first mile and Shelby Farms Park’s pedestrian/bicycle bridge were reminders of an emerging off-road trail network that is still under development.

With crowds flocking to the Shelby Farms Greenline even before its formal opening earlier this fall, those assembling the land and money for these paths are anxious to keep the city’s attention.

They want to create connections that will allow Memphians to go farther and connect with multiple neighborhoods – and they are now looking for the routes that will bridge numerous gaps.

Among the bikers, paddlers, walkers and runners at the Wolf River Bridge opening was Charles McVean, an avid bicyclist and developer of an electric hybrid bicycle who pinpointed one of the green print’s gaps.

“Now the challenge is to connect this park to Overton Park,” he said.

McVean is pushing to get the five lanes of auto traffic on Broad down to two lanes with the rest for bicycles, making it an entrance into Overton Park. He also wants to see bicycle lanes in the 40-foot wide median strip along North Parkway between East Parkway and Front Street.

“I think that’s a natural to put the bikes where the horses used to go,” McVean said referring to North Parkway’s origins as a horseracing venue before parimutuel betting was outlawed after the turn of the 20th century. “The enemies of bicycling are automobiles, hills, winds and altitude. But if we control the automobiles, our flat temperate zone, low wind, is an ideal place for bicycling.”

McVean’s ambitious plans for regional connectivity include a seldom-used pedestrian right-of-way route across the Mississippi River via the Harrahan Bridge to West Memphis and then developing trails along a levee to the St. Francis National Forest at Helena.

“Then you’ve made the great leap to make Memphis not only a national but an international bicycling tourist destination,” he said.

Alex Garvin, a consultant to the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, also made a bold prediction when he compared the new access into Shelby Farms to the planning for New York City’s Central Park.

Garvin helped the conservancy select field operations of New York as the park’s master planner. He called the paths and trails a precursor to a denser Memphis, which boasts a park many times larger than Central Park.

“You are not going to do this overnight,” Garvin said. “But what I can promise you is that you will bring together people who will find ways to work together. That’s one of the secrets to having a livable community.”

While the Wolf River Greenway, Shelby Farms Greenline and Shelby Farms trail system will eventually be connected, they will retain their differences, Wolf River Conservancy board chairman Hugh Fraser pointed out.

The development of each trail network has been distinct. In the case of the Wolf River Greenway, for example, gathering the parcels of land for public use has taken time and won’t be completed for years.

The greenway is part of the conservancy’s larger goal to preserve wetlands and let citizens reconnect with the Wolf River. Like all green efforts in Memphis, it has been a complex – but worthwhile – mission.

“In comparison to the greenline, which was an already existing path and bed – we don’t have that infrastructure here in a flood plain,” Fraser said. “First off, it’s a flood plain so occasionally it gets quite wet. … So the routing tends to be the best routing possible that takes into consideration the topography of the land, the flow of the river, potential floods. There’s a lot of work that goes into it.”

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