Big River Crossing drew nearly 250,000 in first year, promoters say
Commercial Appeal | Tom Charlier
Since its opening on a sunny Saturday almost exactly a year ago, the Big River Crossing has welcomed nearly 250,000 visitors who enjoyed after-work jogs, weekend bicycle rides and leisurely strolls on the boardwalk over the Mississippi River.
In advance of first-anniversary events planned for this weekend, promoters of the $18 million project released figures showing that 247,596 users had been counted on the mile-long boardwalk built on the north side of the Harahan Bridge, a 101-year-old rail span.
Eighty-five percent were pedestrians, according to figures provided by groups overseeing the project, with the remaining 15 percent bicyclists. The most popular weekday time for users was 5:30 p.m., while 2:30 p.m. was the busiest time on weekends. Monthly visitation peaked at more than 35,000 last November and hovered in the 20,000-25,000 range from June through September.
“The proven success of Big River Crossing represents a catalyst for the continued advancement of our riverfront—'ours' being both Memphis’ and Arkansas’,” Dow McVean, a project official with the Big River Strategic Initiative, said in a prepared statement. The Big River group is a limited liability corporation overseeing the boardwalk and other projects.
Built on one of two cantilevered decks that for decades accommodated "carriageways" carrying cars and trucks over the river, the 10-foot-wide boardwalk is the nation’s longest active bike-pedestrian rail bridge and the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi.
More than 100,000 light-emitting diode (LED) lights bracketing the structure allow for multicolored displays commemorating holidays and special events.
It was constructed using a mix of government and private funds, with the largest chunk of money coming from a federal grant for the Main to Main Intermodal Connector, a $40 million initiative connecting the downtowns of Memphis and West Memphis.
In observance of the anniversary of the opening last Oct. 22, the project will host the Big River Crossing Half Marathon + 5K on Saturday, with proceeds benefiting the Peer Power Foundation. On Saturday and Sunday, the bridge also will transmit dynamic light shows to mark the anniversary.
The boardwalk turns a year old as another trail connecting to it on the Arkansas side of the river nears completion. The 6-mile bike-pedestrian trail is the first phase of what will be Delta Regional River Park. The path winds through farm land along the banks of the Mississippi, providing expansive views of Downtown Memphis on the other side of the river.
Although the parking lot hasn't been paved and a small section under a bridge remains incomplete, the trail will be essentially complete this weekend, said Terry Eastin, executive director of the Big River Strategic Initiative. "It's really a great new trail addition for Crittenden County and West Memphis," Eastin said.