I received an invitation to a press conference taking place today to announce a proposed bike trail to run from Little Rock's River market to downtown Hot Springs. Usually, when a project of this magnitude is announced, it has been cussed and discussed to the extent that there is little to be surprised about. I was admittedly out of the loop on this endeavor.
The working team consists of Jeremy Lewno, Brett Budolfson, Mason Ellis, Lawson Baker, and Tim McKuen (not in photo)
The trail would follow an abandoned Rock Island/ UP rail right-of-way and would involve Pulaski, Saline and Garland Counties, along with the cities of Little Rock, Shannon Hills, Bryant, Bauxite, Benton, Haskell, Lonsdale, and Hot Springs. The three county judges and the respective mayors from each of the cities were in attendance, along with representitives of chambers of commerce. It is truly remarkable that in today's political climate, all of these leaders could come together with a common goal. Several spoke and all shared a common theme: that cycling and pedestrian trails serve as a transportation alternative, create jobs through tourism, lodging and retail, provide healthy lifestyle opportunities for their citizens, and enhance property values.
The Mayor of Bauxite noted that the rail route that once hauled the mineral bauxite from his city will now bring in people. Garland County Judge Rick Davis observed that bicycle tourism is among the fastest growing segments of that market and that cycling opportunities serve as an attractive marketing tool for conventions and meetings.
These leaders run the spectrum politically, but they were all on the same page today.
Mason Ellis laid it out.
The power point presentation below, which was presented by Mason Ellis, will give you some insight of the nature of the route, though I will not attempt to reproduce Mason's narrative. You can get a bit more information here.
Judge Buddy Villines, Pulaski County, estimated the total cost of the project to be 20-25 million dollars in public and private funding and guessed that it would likely be 5-10 years to completion.
Portions of the right-of-way will be integrated into existing trail systems along the way and, as the right-of-way is established and cleared, portions of the trail could open to hikers and mountain bikers long before paving takes place.A representative of a hiking group noted that there are organizations seeking new venues to hike and new trails to build, so volunteers could play a significant role.
There was a large turnout of mainstream media for the press conference, along with the really important journalistic giants like Joe Jacobs of Arkansas Outside . I'm glad they had it near the lunch hour so that we could make it and keep our day jobs.
This kind of grand project requires long-term vision and political tenacity to complete, but look at what has come about with the Arkansas River Trail. It is yet to be complete, but 10 years ago, a projection of what we have today would have been considered a pipe dream. Much credit goes to Judge Villines and former NLR Mayor Pat Hays for keeping that vision alive. Let's hope that the leaders who gathered today and their successors have the will to bring this dream into being.