Cyclists invited to preview Delta riding in advance of Harahan project completion
In anticipation of biking enthusiasts who will venture across the Harahan Bridge once the bicycle-pedestrian boardwalk is complete, West Memphis is hosting the Arkansas Delta Flatlander on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 8:30 a.m.
“We want to be ahead of the game when the Harahan starts bringing riders and walkers across the bridge interested in exploring the West Memphis side of the river,” said Jim Jackson, director of the West Memphis Office of Tourism. “There are lots of plans, but there are riding opportunities now. This ride will serve as an introduction to some of what’s in store.”
The Flatlander, a metric century ride (100 kilometers, or 62 miles) will start at the corner of E. Broadway and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd, the trailhead for the Arkansas side of the approach to the Harahan. It will follow the path of the Mississippi River south, circling Horseshoe Lake before heading back north to the start. Twenty- and 40-mile routes will be available as well.
A portion of the route will overlap the Mississippi River Trail (MRT), 3,000 miles of on-road
bikeways and pedestrian and bicycle pathways stretching from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. A long distance ride and access to the MRT may not appeal to every rider, but Ward Wimbish, the city’s economic development director and an avid cyclist, says serious riders will jump at the chance to cross the river and cover new territory.
“For several years now, I have envisioned an outdoor event like this that brings participants from across the region to West Memphis,” Wimbish said. “With work on the Harahan project set to begin soon, this ride will just be the beginning. Riders can connect to the Mississippi River Trail today. And one day they actually may be able to ride all the way to New Orleans on the levee.”
Wimbish is referring to recent news that the St. Francis Levee Board voted to open up a 63-mile stretch of Arkansas levee for bike and pedestrian use. The new stretch will be one prong of the Big River Strategic Initiative — the new name for the Harahan Bridge Project — that includes not only the boardwalk across the Mississippi but also plans to promote the entire Mississippi corridor through a partnership
with National Geographic.
For those less focused on long distances, there are also plans for an “eco park” stretching from the foot of the Harahan to the levee. Plans developed by the city in conjunction with the University of Memphis Division of City and Regional Planning include a network of trails, an education center, outdoor education spaces, exhibits, and interpretive panels and space for food trucks and festivals. The planning process is affiliated with the Mid-South Greenprint and Sustainability Plan, which is focused on enhancing regional livability and sustainability by establishing a unified vision for a region-wide network of greenspace areas.
The ability to connect communities with human-powered transportation across a river and a state line is dependent on the completion of the Harahan connector. But as far as Wimbish and other organizers of the Arkansas Delta Flatlander are concerned, it all starts this month.
“When riders are finishing this ride, they’re going to be more than just tired,” Wimbish said. “They’re going to be imagining coming down off that bridge into West Memphis and having to decide what to do next.”
For more information contact Jim Jackson, director of the West Memphis Office of Tourism, at (870) 732-7598, or visit ArkansasDeltaFlatlander.com.