By: Michael Lander
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 just outside of Memphis.
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 a distinctively unique place, and unlike any other Memphis area park, in that it will be directly connected to a multi-state trail system and it will be the only place with a scenic view of a the Mississippi River juxtaposed against the magnificent Memphis city skyline.
The park will also be completely encapsulated within a natural and rural setting that visitors from all walks of life, and from all over the world, will be able to appreciate.
The creation of this new park will be the fulfillment of a quest that began in the mid-1980’s.
|The Hernando DeSoto Bridge spans the length of the|
Mississippi River and connects Memphis to West Memphis,
Ark. Thousands of vehicles drive over the bridge each day
and just below them, on the Arkansas side, will be West
“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 the University of Memphis and the Regional Planning Department to develop a master plan with funding from a Mid-South Regional Greenprint grant,” 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.
|This is a view of the Memphis skyline that visitors to Eco-|
Park will see in West Memphis, Ark. within the next year.
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 Orleans and 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.
|This is a view of the Memphis skyline from where the|
future Eco-Park will be located in West Memphis.
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.
“The new park and trails will be a big tourist attraction and it will be a quality of life improvement for us that should also bring significant economic development to our city,” Luker said.
“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.
|This is a close-up view of the Memphis skyline from across|
the Mississippi River in what will be Eco-Park in West
“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.
“Hopefully, within five years, large sections of the Arkansas corridor will be open,” she added.
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 into consideration in their design and planning.
Eastin doesn't anticipate any similar issues with the trails leading to the park since they will be elevated, along the levees, and this will provide a better vantage point for seeing the surrounding terrain.
|This is a view from atop the river bluff in Memphis with|
Tom Lee Park in the forefront and the Mississippi
River and West Memphis, Ark. beyond that. Eco-Park
will be located along the shoreline in West Memphis.
“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.
“The system will bring new economic lifeblood to the small communities along the river. As more people access the system, new business ventures will arise to meet tourism demands,” Eastin said.
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.
|This is a diagram of the first of the proposed phases of levee|
trails in Arkansas. This one depicts the Delta Regional
River Park Trails, which will be located along the
perimeter of Eco-Park with one leading it up to
it from the Big River Crossing.
“Many global visitors will be fascinated with seeing large expanses of agricultural production in Arkansas, including the size and scale of equipment used in the process, and other things like the largest remaining hardwood forests in the nation,” she added.
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.
“This was created to support recreational and educational tourism, and awareness, along the entire Mississippi River corridor,” she added.
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.
|This is a close-up of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge in the|
foreground with the Harahan (with the Big River Crossing)
for cyclists and pedestrians in the background.
“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.
“Like Little Rock in the early 2000’s, the Memphis area has turned the corner toward an era of healthier living, more green infrastructure, and better alternative transportation systems, and it now is positioning itself to be one of the South’s finest examples of quality living,” she added.
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.