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VOL. 11 | NO. 27 | Saturday, July 7, 2018

One Phase at a Time: Epping Way Leg Of Wolf River Greenway Now Open

By Don Wade

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The Wolf River Greenway’s Epping Way leg just opened. Perhaps to those not directly involved in the project it feels like it just sort of popped up overnight. And Bob Wenner, the Wolf River Greenway coordinator and project manager, understands – sort of.

Kenneth Nash, front, and Jaylan Sutton, residents of a nearby neighborhood, ride their bikes on the Epping Way leg of the Wolf River Greenway. The trail formally opened in June, offering extended recreational use in the wetlands surrounding the Wolf River. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Wenner has been walking the trail that is the Wolf River Greenway for a long time now. Recently, he walked along Epping Way, which is just under one mile, and had the reaction he often has: Wow, another milestone.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years,” he said. “It’s extremely gratifying and somewhat surreal."

“The magnitude of difficulty is pretty high.”

And includes obstacles that the general public truthfully has no reason to stop and consider. Like permits. Wenner says just the Epping Way portion of the trail required more than 10 permits. The 2013 merger of Shelby County’s two public school systems added to the degree of difficulty; property transfer efforts lasted about four years.

“And we’ll do it again next phase,” he said. “I pinch myself some days. Yeah, we got this phase done but there are 15 more to go. It’s kind of like signing up for more brain damage.”

He says it with a laugh, but each phase is its own challenge.

The North Highland entrance to Epping Way is off a two-way protected bike lane between Douglass Park and James Road. Epping Way has two trailheads along varied terrain – from a wooded area with mature oaks to a soybean field. Alta Planning + Design provided expertise and senior adviser Chuck Fink says they tried to do so through the lens of the trail user.

“We put them on the edge of the soybean field, we put them on the edge of the lake,” Fink told The Daily News while Epping Way was still a work in progress. “We went through the middle of a hardwood forest. All of those things come into play.”

The Epping Way leg of the Wolf River Greenway zigzags through 120 acres of Wolf River wetland. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

Wenner points to economic impact studies commissioned by the Walton Family Foundation showing the benefits from the Razorback Greenway in Northwest Arkansas as further proof of the long-term value of the Wolf River Greenway.

Among the findings: In 2017, cycling on the Razorback Greenway generated 90,000 out-of-state visitors. One study also found that the trails were making a positive impact on health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, with a projected $86 million reduction in health costs over time.

Wenner sees those benefits day-by-day, too. It’s as personal as the Fitbit he wears on his wrist when walking the Greenway. Or when he’s driving to work and rolls by the Greenway on Humphreys Blvd., and sees people out on the trail at 7 a.m.

“Honestly, it puts a smile on my face,” he said. “The long-term health benefits can be generational, right?”

One of the Walton Family Foundation studies also found that property values jumped about $15,000. Plus, there are environmental benefits as car trips decrease and people opt for bikes or old-fashioned heel-to-toe walking power.

Like anyone with a deadline, Wenner wonders about goal of a 2020 completion date for the entire Wolf River Greenway. But the completion of Epping Way brings them that much closer to the goal and provides still more opportunity for the community to enjoy its natural resources.

“Not everybody can afford an expensive bike,” Wenner said. “But everybody can afford a pair of shoes. And that’s all it takes to get out on the Greenway.”

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