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Happy Trails

Study looks at ways to improve the Mississippi River Trails.

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Along the local banks of the Mississippi River, faded green and white signs bearing the logo of a bicycle and the letters "MRT" stand unnoticed and largely forgotten.

Those signs mark a segment of the 3,000-mile Mississippi River Trail, (MRT) that stretches along the river from Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the section of the pedestrian and bicycle trail that runs through Shelby County has fallen into disrepair, but a number of organizations are banding together to do something about it.

The Mississippi River Corridor-Tennessee (MRCT), the University of Memphis, and the Memphis Regional Design Center have teamed up on a study of how to improve the trail's local segment. The results of the study will be discussed at a public meeting on Thursday, January 19th.

"Diana Threadgill [president of the MRCT] raised the modest funds to undertake an examination of the current trail with an eye towards making it a more available and meaningful asset to county residents," said Ken Reardon, director of the graduate program in city and regional planning at the University of Memphis.

One of the most obvious problems is inadequate signage indicating the Memphis portion of the trail, according to the study.

"The trail isn't well marked in Shelby County," Threadgill said, "and a lot of bikers, pedestrians, and hikers don't even realize they're on the trail. There are some markers north of the city — some with bullet holes — so we're looking at adding new signage and deciding where signs need to go."

In addition to new trail markers, they'll also consider adding signs that indicate connections with other trails and greenlines, as well as local attractions like Meeman-Shelby Forest, historic downtown and civil rights tours, and Soulsville.

The largest proposed change will redirect the trail from its current river crossing at the I-55 bridge and extend the trail from downtown through South Memphis and into Mississippi, where cyclists and hikers will cross into Helena, Arkansas.

"Currently, the entrance to the bridge is a very difficult site to navigate," Reardon said. "You have to cross a lane with heavily trafficked streets, and you have to carry your bike up 20 steps to the top of a 30-foot section [of trail] where you are totally exposed to heavy trucks moving at a rapid pace."

Threadgill also hopes a revamped trail will attract more users who can generate some extra economic vitality for communities along the river.

"[MRCT] is involved in economic development for our counties, so we don't view this trail as being strictly recreational," Threadgill said. "We're also looking at the economic benefits the county will enjoy by people riding and stopping at different restaurants, destinations, and cultural events."

The Memphis Regional Design Center is hosting Thursday's community meeting at 6 p.m. in the Main Hall of Central Station.

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