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Shelby County now boasts a new 38-mile bicycle/pedestrian trail that becomes a mid-section for the more than 3,000 mile trail connecting the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Itasca, Minnesota, to the Gulf of Mexico.
More than at any time in the recent history of Memphis, the river is being capitalized on as a distinctive natural resource that can define who we are and propel our economy. These milestones include completion of Beale Street Landing on the Memphis riverfront which is home to the American Queen Riverboat, the announcement of the $15 million federal grant to add a pedestrian access to the 1916 Harahan Bridge, the demolition of the concrete plant on the riverfront to create more green space, and now the new trail through Shelby County.
The trail is the latest accomplishment of the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee Inc. (MRCT), a six-county organization preserving important natural resources and scenic views on Old Man River. As the trail winds its way through Shelby County, it links two state parks, the Memphis riverfront, and numerous City of Memphis parks.
There was a previous trail route through Shelby County as part of the 3,000-mile Mississippi River Trail (MRT), but in response to a groundswell of interest in improving it, Mississippi River Corridor Tennessee, with funding from Hyde Family Foundations, Shelby County Government, FedEx, Sustainable Shelby, and Estie and John Sheahan, set in motion the process to improve the previous route.
The new, improved bicycle/pedestrian trail has now been approved by both the local group, the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee, and the national organization, the Mississippi River Trail Inc., and as a result, it now becomes an official part of the 10-state route.
“The Hyde Family Foundations were instrumental to this trail being developed, giving the public the chance to have input, and making sure that it moved forward to approval,” said MRCT executive director Diana Threadgill, adding that the Foundations funded efforts to improve the route and make it a “great ride.” The purpose of the trail is to increase recreational enjoyment, improve health, wide conservation efforts, and develop tourism, said Mrs. Threadgill said.
The new, improved trail enters Shelby County from Tipton County and meanders by Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, heading south to Frayser where it swings from west of Firestone Park to west of Westside Park before entering downtown Memphis at the Mud Island Greenbelt Park. Once downtown, the trail hugs the riverfront before jogging through the South Bluffs on its way to DeSoto Park. From there, it’s a relatively straight shot to Martin Luther King Jr. Riverside Park, bending southwest to enter T.O. Fuller State Park and Chucalissa Museum and Archaeological Park before heading south to East Shelby Drive where it goes due east and then turns south to connect with the trails in DeSoto County.
“We view the Shelby County trail as a key component of Memphis’ Greenprint, providing cyclists with safe connectivity to many other parks, trails, and bike facilities as well as important cultural assets along the Mississippi River,” said Lauren Taylor, Hyde Family Foundations Program Officer for Greening Initiatives.
“It should be relevant and functional to local users but also appeal to cyclists from outside the region since the Mississippi River Trail is of national scope. We knew that the dedicated leaders of the Mississippi River Corridor Tennessee would deliver on their promise of a thorough, inclusive process to develop a greatly improved plan for Shelby County.”
The Shelby County trail is critical to the entire ecotourism agenda for the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee as it works in six West Tennessee counties, said Mrs. Threadgill. “We want people to go up the corridor,” she said. “The strategic plan for (MRCT) is based on 20 years and we’re in year five. We have the prettiest stretch of scenic beauty anywhere along the 10 states of the Mississippi River and we have to capitalize on it.”
The West Tennessee counties that make up MRCT are Shelby, Tipton, Lauderdale, Dyer, Lake and Obion Counties. “There are scenic overlooks (in the six counties) that are incredible but there is no access,” said Mrs. Threadgill. “It is difficult to explain this project because the scope is pretty large. What we’re trying to do is present the six counties as a unified world-class destination, possibly as a national park that is a book end with the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.”
Later this year, the Mississippi River Corridor – Tennessee will have a fund-raising bike ride from Memphis to Randolph in Tipton County. Randolph was once a major rival to Memphis and a major center of river commerce. At the start of the Civil war, its population was 5,000, but today is only 200. “There’s no better way to see the assets that we have (than on a bike),” Mrs. Threadgill said.
The Shelby County segment of the Mississippi River Trail convincingly proves her point.