Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola made a major announcement today regarding the Arkansas River Trail "Cantrell gap". After years of pressure from BACA, along with other cycling and pedestrian interests, Stodola said, "I'm tired of hearing about it. We have a fantastic plan from Jacobs Engineers, we have widespread support from the community, and now we have a commitment from the Walton Family Foundation for matching funds that will allow us to complete the River Bluffs Trail Section."
He pointed to the Walton Family Foundation's pledge of $15-million which supplemented federal TIGER grants and local funding to complete the 36 mile, $38-million Razorback Greenway in Northwest Arkansas.
From the Greenway website:
Trails for bike riding and walking ranked second out of 18 different amenities that new homebuyers look for in a community, according to a 2002 survey of new homebuyers sponsored by the National Association of Home Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders.
A Foundation spokesman said that central Arkansas had been important to the growth of Walmart in its nascent years and that the Walton family was glad to be able to give back to the community. It's also good for business: "Trail systems are proven to spur economic development and bring more people to communities That's good for Walmart."
Dillard's representatives did not wish to comment.
The official name for this spectacular addition to the Arkansas River Trail System has yet to be decided.
It is thought likely that the trail, cantilevered dramatically over the Arkansas River behind the Dillard's corporate headquarters, will be named for the Walton Family.
Local cyclist and former state representative Sam Ledbetter, who helped allocate $1,000,000.00 in state funds for the trail completion several years ago, was heard to say, "It's about time. The City of Little Rock has been sitting on the funding almost long enough to term-limit Jason Rapert."
It is hoped that construction will be completed in time to coincide with the dedication of the new Broadway Bridge and the re-opening of the River Trail sections affected by that project.
Stodola said that he was going to act on his oft-voiced strategy of using eminent domain to force the acquisition of the needed property and easements." We have projects underway for the east and west termini, and now we're going to close the gap. It's not just about bikes and walkers. It's about building a better city."
When asked what prompted him to act now after years of foot-dragging, Stodola cited available funding, his many unfulfilled promises to the cycling community, enhanced tourism and economic development opportunities, strong support from city directors Erma Hendrix and Lance Hines, and the fact that "I won't have Judy Lansky riding my ass", as determining factors in the decision. Hendrix reportedly said that she had recently read the story of Major Taylor and had come away inspired to create more safe cycling opportunities for the people of district 1, "especially for the children".
Fairy tales can come true.