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Monday, June 30, 2014

Memphis cyclists stand to benefit from 'Big River Crossing' and a possible multi-state trail

Memphis cyclists stand to benefit from 'Big River Crossing' and a possible multi-state trail
By:  Michael Lander

This is one of dozens of cyclists who attended the grand opening of Riverside
Drive that has a portion that is marked and designated exclusively for
cyclists and pedestrians.  In the background is the Harahan Bridge
that has received a new moniker of the "Big River Crossing."

Just imagine, if you will, being able to ride your bike on a set of trails along the Mississippi River from as far north as Minnesota, through Memphis, and then on down to New Orleans.

For now that may just be wishful thinking, or the stuff that dreams are made of, but if people like entrepreneur and cycling promoter, Charles McVean, have their way, that sort of dream, or wishful thinking, may one day very well become a reality.

As ambitious as this might seem to some people, for some like McVean, if you're only thinking about bike trails in our local area, you really are not thinking big enough.

As Thomas Bailey, Jr. reported in The Commercial Appeal article, "Big developments revealed on 'big river crossing' over the Mississippi", McVean has hired Terry Eastin as a paid consultant to work a range of issues that include the potential further development of a 3,000 mile, ten state trail system from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.

These are cyclists attending the Spring Roll - Bike Gate Grand Opening at Overton
Park in Memphis on April 19, 2014 that was attended by dignitaries who thanked
those who helped save the park and recognized Tylur French who created the iconic
bicycle arch and all those who are helping to make Memphis a cycling city.

As the executive director for Mississippi River Trail, Inc. and Arkansas River Trail Consultant for the City of Little Rock, Eastin has many years of knowledge and experience with the planning and construction of trails and in the community advocacy for them.  She also helped to establish a Mississippi River Connections Collaborative.  This is a partnership between the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a network of local, state, and federal park and trail managers, and non-profit organizations that have a vested interest in a system of on-road bikeways and pedestrian and bicycle pathways.

In working with McVean, Eastin hopes to address or tackle a wide range of issues.  These include the connection of a bike trails to the Harahan Bridge over the Mississippi River, (that has recently become known as the "Big River Crossing"), along with a comprehensive levee trail development, and a National Geographic project that will create an interactive website with a coded map, a phone app, and the use of various social media platforms to promote "geo-tourism" along the Mississippi River corridor.

The Shelby Farms Greenline is a popular trail for Memphians and others
alike.  Eventually, the trail will be extended further west and east and will
connect to other existing trails and bike lanes that will allow cyclists to
even ride to downtown Memphis.

In any potential multi-state trail system, Memphis would serve an extremely pivotal and crucial role, given its location along the river.  Nothing would help more to make this all possible than to also have the Harahan Bridge or "Big River Crossing" in place to tie everything together. 

Paul Morris is the president of the Downtown Memphis Commission and the project director of the "Big River Crossing" to connect Memphis to West Memphis.  If all goes according to plan, and Morris is able to secure the remaining funding and support that he needs for this project, it will not only be seen as a personal crowning achievement for him, but it will easily become a premiere tourist attraction in and of itself, and give a much-needed boast and impetus to further expansion of a trail system along the river.

Cyclists riding to the annual Bikesploitation event held at the National
Ornamental Metal Museum located near DeSoto Park and the Mississippi
River on May, 17, 2014.

With the "Big River Crossing," and a multi-state trail system, both cyclists and others are sure to love and appreciate the scenic views of towns and cities, the river, and all of the wildlife in a natural setting that most of us would never get to experience any other way.  It is safe to say that there are very few, if any, opportunities in the world that will allow people to ever travel alongside a major waterway, which in this case happens to be a lifeblood for our nation.  The trails can also bring people together who share both a common bond or connection to the river and to cycling as well.

Even though there may be some who might not think that a 3,000 mile trail system would be a big draw for cyclists, they could not be any more wrong.  You need only to look at how popular trails are in other parts of the country and around the world to discover that.  Thousands of people travel each and every year to the Appalachians and to the Rockies and some who even ride across the entire length of a state and across the country.

Memphis area cyclists currently have trails that connect Shelby Farms
Park with other trails and bike lanes in Germantown, Memphis, and the
Wolf River Greenway with more planned in the future.

With a Big River Crossing and an inter-connected trail system on the Mississippi River, Memphis stands to be seen as a progressive city and a leader throughout the U.S. and beyond.  Though it might be tempting by some local politicians not to support something like this because of budgetary reasons, it would be extremely shortsighted of them to do that. 

Efforts like this serve as a long-term investment and a resource in the city and its residents.  It should also be worth noting that initiatives and projects like this do not only come about through local, state, and federal funding, but are often achieved through donations from individuals, corporations, and businesses who work together for the benefit of everyone.

Cyclists, and many others, have many places and parks like Shelby
Farms in Memphis where they can enjoy nature and a beautiful
sunset on a lake or on the Mississippi River.

For those who are looking for the upside and benefits of all this, they will find such projects enhance the quality of life, provide a form of recreation for entire families, and a way to improve the health and fitness of all people in a community, which you really can't put any price on.  It also helps to bring in tourists and that might mean additional revenue for some cash-strapped cities and towns that may be located on or near a future trail along the river.

Even though it may be a decade or more for all of this to come together, it is a vision that we should all have in common with one another.  It can come only about by letting our voices be heard and by supporting candidates who share in that same vision with this.  We always have the capacity to achieve anything that we want when we pull together for a common purpose and for what is in the best interests and in the common good of each and every one of us.

To learn more about the big river crossing, you may want to read WMC-TV's, "No cars and few people could draw tourists from around the world," and the video "Big River Strategic Initiative."

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