Little Rock's River Trail and Big Dam Bridge Worth a Trip

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Nice river trail they have in Little Rock, and November is the month to see it. The 15-mile loop follows both sides of the Arkansas River through downtown Little Rock and North Little Rock from the Clinton Museum to the spectacular Big Dam Bridge, the world's longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge. If Memphis can create something like this with the Harahan Project, we will have a winner.

I had seen that Arkansas The Natural State television commercial and the Arkansas tourism ads in our publications lots of times but had never been in Little Rock in the fall when the colors are at their peak. The Big Dam Bridge, completed in 2006, sounded like a bike magnet. Little Rock is close (two hours in the truck convoy on Interstate 40) and cheap (about $200 for the weekend including bike rental, meals, gas, and a room at the Wyndham Riverfront in North Little Rock).

I started in North Little Rock at River Trail Bike Rentals, where owner David Fike rented me a hybrid for $16 for half a day. The shop is next to a park inside the floodwall near the landing for the Arkansas Queen and the U.S.S. Razorback World War II submarine. There's a big parking lot, historic murals on the floodwall, a public restroom (open and clean) and a water fountain (cold and working). The riverbank is crushed rock with a concrete pathway to the boats. I bet it didn't cost $42 million.

On the north side, the trail passes Verizon Arena, the minor-league baseball park, Big Rock Quarry, high bluffs, the Burns Park golf course, Centennial Park soccer fields, and a wetlands. On the south side (downtown Little Rock) it passes The Peabody, River Market, a sketchy section of downtown where the trail is incomplete, Rebsamen Golf Course, and a suburban office center that includes the headquarters of Dillard's and Verizon.

On Saturday, the north entrance to the Big Dam Bridge was closed for some minor repairs. Some walkers and a few bicyclists were scaling the fence, but I decided to ride back downtown, cross over on the Presidential Bridge, and repeat the trip on the south side. The damn bridge was open on that side, and the view to the west toward volcano-like Pinnacle Mountain was worth it. You get a sense of Little Rock and the Arkansas River as a Gateway to the West, like St. Louis. The Chickasaw Indians were force-marched and transported on barges from Tennessee to Oklahoma in the 1840s. The map says Pinnacle Mountain is eight miles away, but the river trail only goes part way, so I decided to drive to it on Sunday. The climb to the top and back is pegged at two hours on the sign in the parking lot. Sure . . . I can do this in an hour, maybe a little more. Two hours later I was back at my car, sore-kneed from scrambling up and down rocks and soaked in sweat.

Like the Cumberland in Nashville and the Tennessee in Chattanooga, the Arkansas is a manageable river that lends itself to recreation and riverside development. Little Rock and North Little Rock have clustered their hotels, corporate buildings, sports facilities, and tourist attractions. The Clinton Museum was a big boost, as was the Big Dam Bridge. But the cities do the little things right, too. The 15-mile River Trail loop is one of them.

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