Arkansas River Trail

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Arkansas River Trail
ART location.jpg
Location of the Arkansas River Trail
Length 14 mi (23 km)
Location Pulaski County, Arkansas, USA
Trailheads Little Rock, Arkansas
North Little Rock, Arkansas
Use Hiking, Cycling, Jogging
Elevation
Elevation change negligible
Hiking details
Trail difficulty Easy
Season All
Sights Arkansas River, Pinnacle Mountain, Big Rock, the Little Rock, William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park, The Medical Mile, the Big Dam Bridge, North Little Rock's Burns Park
Trail enthusiasts on the Arkansas River Trail west of the Jimerson Creek footbridge with Pinnacle Mountain looming in the background.

The Arkansas River Trail is a recreation rail trail that runs 17 miles (27 km) in along both sides of the Arkansas River in Central Arkansas. The trail is open for use by hikers, joggers, and cyclists year-round. The trail is made up of asphalt creating a hard flat surface.

History[edit]

The Arkansas River Trail began with funding from a $1.9 million bond issue from the City of Little Rock in 2003. Further fund raising spearheaded by trail organizer Terry Eastin and others has resulted in a trail that runs for approximately 14 miles (23 km) on both sides of the Arkansas River. When complete in the next few years the trail will run for a total of 24 miles (39 km) and include a loop from downtown Little Rock/North Little Rock on the east to the Big Dam Bridge on the west. There will also be a western link to Pinnacle Mountain State Park and the 225-mile (362 km) Ouachita National Recreation Trail beyond. The trail includes part of the former Little Rock and Western Railway right-of-way. Most of the right-of-way is still in use by the railroad and run adjacent to the trail but are not part of it.[1]

Threat of Development of Big Rock Quarry[edit]

On August 6, 2012, the North Little Rock City Council discussed a sale of city-owned land (roughly 45 acres) known as “Big Rock Quarry,” through which the Arkansas River Trail runs, to Real Estate Commercial 1 Inc., a private development concern led by realtor Byron McKimmey. Sale would be contingent on a pledge to build 200 to 300 condominia or apartments with some light commercial uses and perhaps a marina on the river within 36 months. A coalition of concerned trail patrons organized meetings and social-media efforts to oppose any development that would severely impact the Arkansas River Trail. North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, though a strong supporter of the sale and development, issued assurances that the trail was “sacrosanct.” He said he would not vote for any plan that put a vehicle crossing or other interruption in the way of trail traffic. However, the project architect admitted in the August 6 council meeting that he had not considered how to accommodate runners and walkers on the River Trail. The development group subsequently released drawings of a plan to create a tunnel, approximately 15 feet wide, through which trail traffic would pass under a motor-vehicle thoroughfare.

According to Mayor Hays, the city’s original purchase of the land approximately 20 years prior was accomplished with the hope of building a performance space for music and other purposes, but the limited access made its use for a mass attendance facility unfeasible. In addition to its impact on the trail, the proposed sale led to concerns by North Little Rock residents regarding the perceived secrecy of the deal, the discounted sale price, and commitments the city would shoulder for future maintenance of utilities and streets. In the August 6 council meeting, it was divulged that developers had been in negotiation with representatives of the city for almost two years without any disclosure to the public. Moreover, the putative sale price discussed in the meeting was $1.2 million, though an independent appraisal in September, 2011, rated the value at $1.75 million; similar prices have reportedly been garnered for plots in the area as small as 2 acres.

The bluffs against which the condominia would be juxtaposed provide a prominent and dramatic scene from across the river in Little Rock and for river traffic. They are also home to Emerald Park, a mostly wooded retreat accommodating a mixture of paved and dirt trails popular with hikers and mountain bike enthusiasts. The bluffs are also of historical significance. They were chosen as a strategic vantage point on which to build Fort Logan H. Roots, which eventually became a hospital in the Department of Veterans Affairs system. The bluffs figure prominently in the travel logs of the first European to navigate the Arkansas River, French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bernard de la Harpe. On April 9, 1722, La Harpe took possession of the bluffs, the first prominent hills he had encountered since leaving the Mississippi River. La Harpe claimed the escarpment in the name of the French king, Louis XIV. Journal records list it as “Le Rocher Français” (“French Rock”) and described it as having three steep peaks, with stone “hard as flint,” and a waterfall and slate quarries nearby.

A final vote on the sale was scheduled for meeting of the city council on Monday, August 27, 2012, but the item was removed from the agenda prior to the meeting. The official reason cited was a request by the developer for further study of the utilities requirements, but most observers believe that public pressure to preserve the area was instrumental, if not the sole explanation. Devotees of the area continue to advocate for its preservation as a park.

Bridges[edit]

Junction and Clinton Presidential Park Bridges[edit]

The Rock Island railroad bridge in 2006, before being converted into a pedestrian and bicycling bridge and renamed the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge

Both of these former railroad bridges have been converted into pedestrian and bicycling bridges. The Junction Bridge opened to the public on Saturday, May 20, 2008. The Clinton Presidential Park Bridge opened to the public on Sunday, October 2, 2011.[2] Both bridges connect the two cities' riverfront parks. The Junction Bridge is accessed via stairs and elevators.

Renovation work on the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge began in May 2010.[3] The bridge, originally constructed in 1899 as a rail bridge named the Rock Island Bridge,[4] is the eastern pedestrian and bicycle connection for the River Trail.

Renovation work on the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge cost $10.5 million and was funded by a mix of funds including $4 million from the Clinton Foundation, $2.5 million of federal stimulus money, $2 million from the Commerce Department, $1 million from the city of Little Rock, and $750,000 from the city of North Little Rock.[5]

Baring Cross[edit]

Of the three railroad spans in the downtown area one is still in use by the Union Pacific Railroad. There has been some wrangling over where to build a pedestrian/bicycle bridge and uncertainty whether the railroad would grant permission to do so. Union Pacific has given tentative approval to plans to build a small bridge near the Little Rock station also known as Union Station.

References[edit]

External links[edit]