Memphiscyclist: New park in West Memphis, Ark. will be a ‘must see’ destination for cyclists from Memphis and beyond
“When it comes to great parks in West Memphis, Ark., there is one that does not yet exist, except on paper, but within a year, however, this park is expected to emerge from the shoreline of the Mississippi River to become one of the most popular and frequently visited parks nearMemphis.
This new park will be known as “Eco-Park” and it will be located along the banks of the Mississippi River and perfectly situated directly across from the City of Memphis.
It will be distinctively unique, and unlike any other Memphis area park, in that it will be directly connected to a multi-state trail system, it will be the only place with a scenic view of a the Mississippi River juxtaposed against the beautiful Memphis city skyline, and to also be completely encapsulated within a natural and rural setting.
The creation of this new park will be the fulfillment of a long quest that began in the mid-1980’s.
“West Memphis has been interested in developing a park along the river for about 30 years,” Paul Luker said.
Luker is the Director of Planning and Development for the City of West Memphis, Ark.
“The Main-to-Main Project (or Big River Crossing) reinvigorated our efforts and we started planning the Eco-Park four years ago,” Luker said.
“In the beginning, we worked with the National Park Service River and Trails Division to develop the concept. We then partnered with theUniversity of Memphisand the Regional Planning Department to develop a master plan with funding from a Mid-South Regional Greenprintgrant,” he said.
“Last fall, we teamed up with the Big River Strategic Initiative to secure $1.5 million in funding to start construction on the first trails that will eventually connect directly to the park. We hope to begin construction in late spring or early summer,” he added.
Luker describes Eco-Park as being a flood-way version of Shelby Farms Park and said that it will have a geographic location that will be at the crossroads of the main-to-main street trail and the Big River Parkway, which will be one of our regional trail systems.
The park will ultimately be connected to a trail system, which should be extremely popular with cyclists, from St. Louis to New Orleansand it will be a destination spot for those coming over “The Big River Crossing” (the Harahan Bridge)from Memphis.
Luker believes that the park will have one distinctive feature that no other park in the area can offer.
“Being able to get an up-close view of the Mississippi River and to see the Downtown Memphis skyline in the background, while being in a completely peaceful and rural setting, should provide an incredible, one-of-a-kind experience to visitors,” Luker said.
“This entire project (with the trails and park) will also be a very unique opportunity for the area to expand the green infrastructure throughout the greater Memphis metropolitan area,” Terry Eastin said.
Eastin is the Executive Director of the Big River Strategic Initiative who also serves as the chief fundraiser and coordinator for the National Geographic Geotourism Initiative along the Mississippi River.
“Our hope is that the new park and trails will offer a myriad of choices for recreational use to include bicycling, walking, bird watching, natural environment studies, or a host of other recreation-conservation opportunities,” Eastin said.
The new park, and the trails leading to it, will become a game-changer for West Memphis.
“In addition to the positive economic development, the expansion of the trail system and the park will also provide opportunities for improving health and wellness in an area with a high incidence of an under-served population. Ultimately, the system in the park area will connect directly to the levee trail offering a multitude of opportunities for recreational enthusiasts and hardcore trail users,” Eastin said.
“A connected pathway system from Memphis to West Memphis to New Orleans will be completed in the first three phases with additional linkages north to St. Louis in phases four through six,” she added.
For now, Eastin is not able to provide a specific time frame for a completion date for the entire trail system.
“The first 73 mile of levee top trail from the border of Marion to Marianna, Ark., though, is expected to open in October 2016 and it is being funded, in part, through an Arkansas economic development grant. Associated costs are determined when new projects that impact the overall system are developed,” Eastin said.
Even though the park will be located on a flood-way, and will be flooded about one month out of the year, Luker and his staff are taking this consideration in their design and planning.
As for the levee trail system leading to and from the park, Eastin doesn’t foresee any problems with them.
“The Mississippi River levee system is the largest man-made system in the world. A predominant problem with river tourism in the Delta is the fact that the levees currently block views of natural areas and the river itself. Having the trails on the levees, themselves, will eliminate this problem,” Eastin said.
Besides West Memphis, Eastin also envisions other cities benefiting from a levee trail system along the Mississippi River.
Along with the cities that will benefit from all this, cyclists also stand to benefit from all this since bikes will be the best and fastest way to travel on the levee trails and Arkansas, according to Eastin, is focusing much of their attention on those who ride.
“Arkansas is working on a tourism program aimed solely at attracting cyclists and trail users, globally. Draft plans include developing and hosting ‘trail community tourism’ programs across the state,” Eastin said.
Through her work with the Mississippi River National Geographic Geotourism program, Eastin hopes to see more economic opportunities to local businesses that will give tourists a chance to see, taste, and experience life in the areas that they visit.
“The Mississippi River National Geographic Geotourism program is a joint project of a major Mississippi River collaborative between the Big River Strategic Initiative, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Delta Regional Authority, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Mississippi River Parkway Commission,” Eastin said.
The program, according to Eastin, is designed to capture the essence of a region and to provide a marketing and tourism platform for business owners and recreational interests. There have been meetings in hundreds of communities to introduce the program and to share ways for businesses and private individuals to participate.
“Typically, local venues cannot compete with global chains, but with this program, tourists have the chance to experience the ‘realness’ of a locale and stay, eat, sleep, and recreate in places that have been vetted by National Geographic’s staff and local residents,” Eastin said.
“Best of all, there is zero cost for participation in this program, thanks to the generous grants and donations provided by Delta Regional Authority and others,” she added.
With the park and the levee trails, Eastin sees a bright future for Memphis and West Memphis.
“These new amenities are offering more people a way to expand their lifestyle and to enjoy the natural environment in ways many have never experienced previously. They are the foundation of a better economic and social health,” Eastin said.
With the Eco-Park, and the levee trails, the Memphis area will make its mark and will soon become a destination stop for cyclists from around the world who will want to come, spend a little time, and to experience what we all know and love about the place that many of us proudly call home.”