CA: Memphis benefits from bicycling, hiking renaissance

CA: Memphis benefits from bicycling, hiking renaissance

The act of tuning up the old Schwinn — or the old Trek, or the old Specialized or whatever — and going for a long bike ride has enjoyed quite a renaissance in the Mid-South, and thanks to the efforts of dedicated trail builders and their funding sources it’s getting safer.

Last week brought the welcome news from the Wolf River Conservancy that three new segments of the 12-foot-wide Wolf River Greenway are under construction or will be soon, and almost all of the property has been acquired for the bicycle and pedestrian trail, which will extend some 22 miles from the Memphis city limits to the Mississippi River.

The project is expected to be finished in late 2019 or early 2020, at a cost of about $45 million, just more than half of which is coming from private sources such as foundations, corporate sponsors and individual donors.

That will create quite a network of trails with its connection in East Memphis with the Shelby Farms Greenline, the paved 10-plus-mile trail that connects several neighborhoods in East Memphis from Binghamton to Shelby Farms Park and, by way of an extension that opened in June, the old Cordova train station.

At the Greenway’s western end at Mud Island, cyclists can make their way to the new Main Street to Main Street Connector Project linking West Memphis and Memphis via the new Big River Crossing on the Harahan Bridge.

All of which is producing benefits for Memphians and other residents of the Mid-South in the form of healthy exercise, cleaner air and connections among diverse neighborhoods via protected trails that reduce the risks involved in sharing the road with motorized vehicles.

And there’s more on the way, especially if plans pan out for a bicycle trail atop the Mississippi River levee from West Memphis to Marianna, Arkansas, a road from Marianna to Helena, Arkansas through Mississippi River State Park, and a rails-to-trails conversion from Helena to Arkansas City.

Then there are the visionaries who are trying to make a West Memphis-to-Little Rock bike route happen. That’s one of the goals of an organization fighting to prevent the demolition of the historic White River Bridge at Clarendon. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, preservation of the old bridge would create the longest elevated bicycling, pedestrian, and nature-watching platform in the world.

These are the kinds of projects that not everyone will cheer, especially in cases where it’s clear that public money must be invested, along with considerable private funds, to make them a reality.

But in addition to the new health, safety, recreational and transportation needs they meet, they have the potential to change people’s perceptions of the Mid-South.

It’s not hard to imagine new bicycle tours springing up along lengthy sections of a comprehensive network of trails in the region, raining economic benefits on cities as well as struggling, isolated rural areas.

It will be a good thing, indeed, if the renaissance keeps rolling.

CA: Memphis benefits from bicycling, hiking renaissance

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