Big River Parkway Trail

This project creates a 73-mile, linear pathway (spine trail) for walking and biking enthusiasts atop the St. Francis levee in Eastern Arkansas. It connects Marion, AR with Marianna, AR, as well as providing a direct link to the Big River Crossing (née Harahan Bridge). Plans include road upgrades for an additional 16 miles to Helena/West Helena, AR. Design includes 16′ wide gravel surfacing and 50+ ramp pass-through ramp systems allow access between gated fields without stopping or the need to open/close gates. Designed for hybrid and fat tire cyclists. A kiosk at entry points provides a trail map with distances, ingress and egress points highlighted. Scenic views of expansive agriculture fields, grazing areas, and parts of America’s largest remaining hardwood forests are found along the trail. Future maintenance provided by project owner and supporter, St. Francis Levee District. First time since 1893, public access is allowed on parts of the trail. Designed to be premiere levee top trail in the lower Mississippi River basin and to serve as an example for levee top trails all along the lower Mississippi River.

During development of the Big River Crossing, a need was identified for outdoor recreational activities in Eastern Arkansas to support bridge use. The levee top was identified as a unique opportunity for expanded trail development. National Park Service, in partnership with US Fish and Wildlife Service, hosted a public community 2-day workshop featuring trail development partnership examples. Workshop identified need for and benefits of levee top trails igniting discussion and passion for opening the St. Francis levee for trail use. BRSI, an NPS and USFWS partner, agreed to take the lead to help realize the levee trail’s potential.

Anticipated outcomes include greater economic viability for trail communities; potential for national and international group events; introduction of new long-distance cycling technology; and high potential for other developing trails to connect to the spine system. Seven miles of connecting park trail on the banks of the Mississippi River in West Memphis are under development. Long-range plan includes connecting Big River Parkway Trail to the Arkansas Delta Heritage Trail system and further south on publicly open levees to the Louisiana border. Plans to expand the levee north to the Missouri border are based on successful operation of the 73-mile corridor.

The 73-mile Big River Parkway Trail is step one in creating an entire alternative transportation system for the use and benefit of Memphis metropolitan users, and a diverse culture of trail enthusiasts across the world. It provides opportunities for expanded recreational activity beyond the Big River Crossing and entices residents to visit both western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas. Future development will create links for long distance loop cycling activities between the two states. West Memphis and eastern Arkansas communities have very limited opportunity for trail access and is spurring the development of a 1,700± acre environmentally sensitive park adjacent to the Mississippi River in West Memphis that also provides an initial 7 miles of trail connecting to the bridge and to the levee trail system. The levee trail passes through thousands of acres of agricultural land without impacting production or disturbing natural resources. The levee trail system connects key Eastern Arkansas communities with significant historical features depicting the settlement of the state through agriculture and community settlement.

The project supports sustainability, new green infrastructure development, better rural community trail access, and access to previously-closed hardwood forests and agricultural production areas. The project supports health and wellness in communities with high minority and disadvantaged populations. It connects directly to the urban metropolitan region and supports development of other new outdoor recreational assets in Tennessee, Mississippi and Arkansas. It is facilitated through the National Park Service. It engages and has created new partnerships with organizations previously unwilling to support outdoor recreation or alternative transportation. It will be marketed world wide through a National Geographic Mississippi River program.