Plan underway to expand Big River Park in Crittenden County

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 10:34 PM CST
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CRITTENDEN COUNTY, Ark. (WMC) - Big plans are underway to expand Big River Park, the area between the Harahan Bridge and the Hernando DeSoto Bridge on the Arkansas side.

When developers are done, Mid-Southerners will step into a natural habitat most river cities can only dream of having.

Big River Park is about to triple in size. It’s a $5 million project with half the money already raised.

“It’s a totally unique viewpoint of Memphis,” said Big River Park Conservancy board member, Dow McVean,

McVean is thrilled about the expansion of Big River Park, which is located in Crittenden County. The park connects to Big River Crossing, the scenic one-mile pedestrian bridge over the Mississippi River, that links Memphis to Arkansas.

“The park is a natural spinoff of that,” said McVean. “It’s going to be an unprecedented natural area of 1,500 acres directly across from downtown Memphis.”

The conservancy already owns 500 acres with an existing 10-mile bike trail. The plan is to buy 1,000 more acres of farmland and restore it to natural wetlands.

“Wetlands are the highest concentration of species of any landscape,” said Ducks Unlimited CEO Adam Putnam.

Putnam said his organization has helped conserve millions of acres of wetland across the country. The Big River Park project, he said, is perfect for a company headquartered in Memphis.

“Ducks Unlimited works with cities and towns to restore wetlands so that the natural infrastructure, the natural benefits of those healthy wetlands are actually protecting lives and property,” explained Putnam.

Ducks Unlimited can help secure state and federal grants. Putnam said trees and natural grass will get planted. Birds and wildlife will return. Big River Park will resemble the way the land looked when settlers arrived, according to Putnam, and since it’s located in a flood plain, there shouldn’t be any major issues when the Mississippi River rises.

During the flooding in 2019, Big River Park sustained just $10,000 in damage.

“I can’t think of any better way of teaching a whole host of lessons,” said Putnam, “than for people to have those positive benefits while they’re learning more about our connection to nature and the power of that river and what it means for riverside cities like Memphis.”

Paved trails, gravel trails, and mountain bike trails will run throughout the acreage. McVean said Big River Park will become a lush, natural spot, the perfect place to take in the beauty of the Bluff City.

“When you put the two together, the environmental angle and the recreational area, and the fact that when it’s complete and when Tom Lee Park’s done, we’ll have a completely unique world-class riverfront,” McVean said. That’s what makes me excited about this project.”

First Horizon has contributed $1 million. AutoZone and International Paper have chipped in too. The conservancy hopes to buy all the land by mid-2022.

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