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Bike scenic Big River Trail

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    December 12, 2016 10:44 AM CST


    Traveling the Levee

    WEST MEMPHIS -- The Natural State has a spiffy new bicycle-tourist attraction, and I'm not talking about the refurbished Harahan Bridge, although that's attractive, new and part of it.

    I'm talking about a 73-mile walking-and-biking trail on riverside levees from West Memphis to Marianna.

    The Big River Trail was "five years in the making," as the press was reporting when a group of friends and I decided it was high time to check it out. So we loaded up the bicycles to set out on our "Big River Adventure."

    The origin of the trail can be traced back even further, to 2009 in Memphis, when Charles McVean began manufacturing hybrid bicycles. McVean is chairman and chief executive officer of McVean Trading & Investment LLC and owner of Aerobic Cruisers Hybrid Cycles LLC. Realizing that the Memphis area offered very little infrastructure to ride the bikes he was building, he came up with the idea of converting the Harahan Bridge, a 100-year-old railroad bridge over the Mississippi River, into a bicycle/pedestrian crossing.

    The bridge conversion developed scope-creep when McVean began to consider where people would ride once they crossed the river and reached the Arkansas shore.

    Not wanting it to be known as "the bridge to nowhere," he gave this issue much consideration before arriving at the obvious solution. Create the Big River Trail, a bicycle or walking path on top of the Mississippi River levee, which stands just a short distance from the west access for the bridge (off Interstate 55) and extends all the way to Marianna.

    Obtaining permission to allow bicycles and pedestrians on top of the levee was no easy task. Sections of the levee in the St. Francis District had not been open to public use since 1893.

    After five years of working with various associations in charge of the levee, he still lacked approval for a trail. Then McVean hired Terry Eastin of Fayetteville and formed the Big River Strategic Initiative to execute his vision.

    Eastin, Arkansas Delta Byways' Delta Tourism Person of the Year for 2015, has been chief fundraiser and coordinator of the National Geographic Geotourism Initiative, executive director of the Mississippi River Trail Inc. and a core team member for the Walton Family Foundation-backed advocacy group Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative.

    We decided that our adventure should begin with bicycling across the Harahan railroad/bicycle/pedestrian bridge, which is now called Big River Crossing. The bridge serves as the connection point in a 10-mile, multi-modal Main Street to Main Street project linking Memphis to West Memphis.

    At almost a mile, Big River Crossing is the longest pedestrian bridge across the great river. The bikeway piggybacks off the 1916 Harahan Bridge. This century-old bridge was constructed with two rail lines in the center and roadways cantilevered off each side to accommodate vehicles, which at that time consisted mainly of horse-drawn wagons. (The roadway was used until 1949.)

    Big River Crossing gives pedestrians use of the former vehicle lane on the north side of the still active railway, for the great upriver views it offers. At the opening ceremony Oct. 22, a steady stream of pedestrians and bicyclists flooded the walkway all day and into the night, marveling at the Memphis skyline and the mighty river.

    Full Article, "Traveling the Levee"


    On our CL Memphis Facebook page, Earl Glazer gave advice on accessing the trail, "The website for Big River Trail is light on details about how to find the entrance to the trail. It's a 2.75 mile ride on the asphalt path after exiting the bridge on the Arkansas side. Here's a picture of the entrance as you approach it on the path."