Contractor begins blazing river trails across from Downtown Memp - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Contractor begins blazing river trails across from Downtown Memphis

(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)
(SOURCE: WMC Action News 5) (SOURCE: WMC Action News 5)

The brand new Big River Crossing on the century old Harahan Bridge is a hit with head counters noting 20,000 visitors in the BRC's first week of service. 

Construction equipment will begin moving into place November 1 for the next phase of development connecting the pedestrian-cycling pathway to new river trails directly across the Mississippi River from Downtown Memphis. Dow McVean, son of Big River Crossing visionary Charlie McVean, is leading the effort to create what’s been described as “Shelby Farms-West,” a 1,700 acre proposed Delta Regional River Park.

The first visible sign of the planned park will be a 6.7 mile loop of crushed asphalt that’ll connect with the Big River Crossing.

“When you come off the Big River Crossing, you’ll go along the riverbank and back around, which will obviously be a great destination,” said Dow McVean, of the forthcoming new loop. The loop will run parallel with the Mississippi River and then back through fields where soybeans and cotton have risen in the Mid-South sun for generations.

The younger McVean said Arkansas farmers like Bert Robinson IV, who own the land adjoining the Arkansas side of the riverbank, have granted easements to allow the Big River Strategic Initiative to create nearly seven miles in new trails. They will give cyclists and hikers direct access to the Arkansas side of the riverbank.

The trail directly along the river will run 1.7 miles. It’ll be the first time the general public will have easy access to the Arkansas side of the river on the land directly across from the Memphis skyline. Cyclists and hikers will be able to exit the Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge and ride or walk all the way to the Hernando DeSoto Bridge.

The planned completion date for the new trail is June 1, 2017. It’ll be financed with a $1 million federal grant and a $250,000 contribution from the City of West Memphis. In addition, Dow McVean said he’s currently in the process of raising private dollars to buy the land that would create the proposed Delta Regional River Park.

Governor Asa Hutchinson said his state is committed to seeing the Delta Regional River Park become a reality.

“Now that this is built you’ve got to have a destination for them. Not only are we going to complete that park, but we also want to complete the other levee trails so you can go in multiple directions once you get over here," Hutchinson said. 

“When we were in the beginning stages, a lot of people said that’s going to be a bridge to nowhere," said Big River Initiative attorney Charlie Newman. "Despite the charms of Crittenden County and West Memphis, people doubted there would be appetite to go there."

The Big River Strategic Initiative, led by the determined Charlie McVean, convinced the St. Francis Levee Board to allow mountain bikers access to the gravel top path on the levees that snake alongside the river for 72 miles from the Big River Crossing all the way to Marianna, AR.

“Beyond that, Louisiana has already built its bike trail on a levee all the way up to Baton Rouge and that trail is coming up to meet this one,” Newman said.

The Arkansas farmland closest to the Mississippi river generally floods each spring and planners estimate high water would cover the trails closest to the riverbank for a few months each year but expect the crushed asphalt will remain in place and be there when the waters recede.

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