The 6.5 mile trail on a former railroad line follows Sam Cooper Boulevard from Chickasaw Country Club to the west side of Shelby Farms by the federal prison. When it officially opens in October, it will extend to Tillman, but that section wasn't open Saturday morning.
The trail is flat, smooth, quiet, and shady most of the way and there seemed to be an equal number of joggers, walkers, and cyclists checking it out. It is about ten feet wide in most stretches, with an unpaved three-foot shoulder on each side. We started at High Point, where businessman Charles McVean is preparing a couple of bays in a little shopping center to repair bikes, organize Aerobic Cruiser trips, and sell snacks, beer and wine, and bike supplies. There's a nice new outdoor deck on the north end of the buildings.
The most scenic part of the trail is the cypress swamp on the east side of Interstate 40 at the edge of the park. There's good access from Waring west, but not so good from Mendenhall, Perkins, and White Station. The trail goes under those streets. A couple of minor glitches remain to be fixed, including some dead trees recently planted in a pretty section on the south side of Chickasaw Country Club golf course.
Getting to the trail from Midtown or downtown involves using North Parkway and Broad or some other east-west streets. We did 36 miles in all, from Shelby Farms to Mud Island. The Aerobic Cruiser will go nearly 20 miles an hour on its lithium battery, and faster if you pedal. Top speed was 30 miles an hour coming down the Auction Street Bridge to Mud Island. It was like rolling around in a dentist's chair, with about as much effort required.
We rode about three hours on the hybrids, and none of the bikes needed a charge and most had power to spare. The recumbent bikes weigh nearly 100 pounds so you don't want to have to rely on pedal power alone. That's theoretically possible, but it was more fun to pass well-conditioned, fully outfitted cyclists on racing bikes while pretending to pedal the hybrid as the battery did most of the work.
McVean plans to start offering bike junkets in October after the grand opening and envisions a "Trail of Trees Bicycle Parkway" running from Shelby Farms to High Point to Broad Street to Overton Park to North Parkway to Mud Island. He sees a new median on Broad, which is indeed broad and little used since Sam Cooper was extended. And he sees the bike path going down the middle of the median on "North Parkway Extended" (Broad) and North Parkway west of East Parkway, where people used to ride horses 70 years ago.
I told him I thought bike lanes on North Parkway would be simpler and faster, given the patchy median requiring curb cuts, costs, probable loss of trees, and the large number of cross streets. But you can see the possibilities on the wide medians at the western end of North Parkway near Danny Thomas. What do you think, riders?
The new trail looks like a good step to making Memphis a more bicycle friendly place and connecting a big part of the city to Shelby Farms.