RIDE LIKE A KID
Kids don’t care about what their hair looks like, or how sweaty they get or how they smell as a result. They also don’t care about distance, at least not the way adults do. When I was growing up in West Memphis my bicycle ride to school was like 5 miles but my mind wasn’t telling me, “Oh that’s too far to ride a bicycle. You don’t have the fitness to do that.” My brother and I just got on our bicycles and rode to school, over to Barfield’s, or to the bayous to catch crawdads with bubblegum.
Last week I rode my bicycle across the bridge to West Memphis and calculated that my ride from my childhood home to Richland Elementary was actually less than a mile. So even though that ride seemed 5 times as long as it actually was I still did it without really thinking about it. Transitively, the 13 miles (from Overton Park) to get into West Memphis must seem like 50 to anyone who has never made the journey.
IT’S CLOSER THAN YOU THINK
The eco-park planned for the area between the Hernando DeSoto Bridge and the Harahan Bridge is only about an 8 mile ride from Overton Park. That’s only 1 mile longer than the current Shelby Farms Greenline.
The ride is about to get a lot easier, too. Right now you cross on the Memphis-Arkansas Bridge where the pedestrian access is about 5 feet wide and strewn with broken glass and car wreckage. In the middle is where the bridge shakes the most. Once you reach the Arkansas side you climb down a bank then ride some asphalt and some gravel until you hit Broadway which has I-55 access. (I’m really selling this, huh?)
This circuitous, hazardous route is being tamed by the Big River Strategic Initiative (BRSI) and a cycletrack that will bring you from the Harahan into West Memphis. As you can see the cycletrack will be separated from vehicular traffic:
To answer your first question: adventure. That’s what’s over there. New roads you’ve never ridden, new parks you’ve never been to, new shops you’ve never been in, new restaurants you’ve never eaten at, and new people that you’ve never met. Paul Luker, director of Planning and Development for West Memphis will tell you it’s the view of the Memphis skyline that you’ve never seen before, but I’m sticking with adventure.
And gambling. Well, I don’t gamble but if I had the desire – Southland Greyhound Park is closer than Tunica. If I needed something from WalMart – the closest location to downtown and midtown Memphis is in West Memphis. Memphis blues wouldn’t be what it is without KWEM, and the original Pancho’s is there!
Memphis is no where close to being claustrophobic, but if you stay in one place long enough you’ll develop a condition called “wanderlust.” That bridge and that cycletrack are your gateway to adventure. A buddy and I already rode to Village Creek State Park, and I’m looking forward to actually riding to St. Francis National Forrest along the levee tops and maybe even one day taking a family bicycle tour down to New Orleans.
“The Big River Parkway gates have been designed and are in fabrication right now. We expect to install them later this Fall. It isn’t actually an open and close gate, but, more of a ramp that will keep farm animals in while allowing riders to pass through easily without having to dismount. There will be a total of 50 of them that will be placed from the border of Marion, AR to Marianna, AR, a distance of about 73 miles.” – Terry Eastin, E.D., Big River Strategic Initiative
Jim Jackson with West Memphis Tourism inaugurated the Delta Flatlander last year – which took bicyclists from West Memphis to Horseshoe Lake and back. This year he’s adding a gravel grinder on the roads that will be in the eco-park. This will hopefully be the public debut of the new gates. In the future I imagine this ride might morph into a kind of BRAT (Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee) in which cyclists will make a figure 8 loop from West Memphis down to Helena, crossing on the Highway 49 Bridge then up through Tunica to Memphis, crossing the Harahan and up to Wilson, then to Caruthersville, crossing on the I-155 and down to Ripley, then to Randolph, then back to West Memphis. It’s round about 400 miles. Take 8 days and have a modern day Tom Sawyer bicycle adventure along the Mississippi River.
THE CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE
Luker is hoping that the impact from the BRSI will additionally spur desire to rebuild the West Memphis Greenways, which fit into the Greenprint regional map. The majority of those greenways have fallen into disrepair (it’s been about 30 years since we played along them) but could be brought back to a non-paved status with a little bit of maintenance. Residents with mountain bikes and hybrids could handle that type of terrain without worry, as could kid bikes. But we know kids don’t care.Big River Strategic Initiative, Harahan Bridge, Memphis, Mississippi River, West Memphis