Greenprint shapes way for connecting region

At the recent Greenprint Summit governments and community organizations came together to discuss the plan's mission of creating a massive regional network of a connected green infrastructure. Beyond appealing to cyclists and runners, the system has the power to connect people and change communities.     
It’s all about connectivity.
 
Memphis has a growing reputation for a dedication to bicycles, and while the city has its own long-term plan to create an unrivaled network of bike lanes, another effort looks to connect the growing greenways system across the Memphis area.
 
Connecting a wide system that includes the Shelby Farms Greenline, the Wolf River Greenway and V&E Greenline will take careful planning. The Mid-South Regional Greenprint is just that plan.
 
A comprehensive, long-term planning document, the Greenprint recommends the establishment of a network of trails and green space to enhance the greater Memphis region. It identifies more than 150 actions that address regional issues related to land use, resource conservation, environmental protection, accessibility, community health and wellness, transportation alternatives and economic development.
 
The goal of 500 miles of greenway trails and 200 miles of bike paths by 2040 isn’t exactly simple, but to all those involved, it’s achievable, especially if everyone works together.

The first of what is hoped will be a biannual Greenprint Summit was held in mid-November. It brought together a number of government agencies and community organizations who are all dedicated to the Greenprint.
 
A Greenways Panel brought together some of those organizations that are focused on community access to trails. Representatives of the Shelby Farms Park Conservancy, Wolf River Conservancy, Vollintine Evergreen Community Association, DeSoto County Greenways and the city of West Memphis talked about their individual efforts and how they eventually will work together to form a broad-reaching network of trails.
 
That gathering proves this effort goes beyond the city limits of Memphis, with trails stretching across the Mississippi River connecting east to Fayette County and south across the state line.

The creation and connection of a multitude of greenways has the real power to change the Memphis area.
 
“This is not a pipe dream,” said Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. “This is what’s happening in Memphis. This is a force multiplier not merely for the person on the bike but for the people who see things coming together. I was raised in the country where it was said good fences make good neighbors. That may be good in the country but we don’t need that in cities. … Our best relationships will be molded not through commissioners or council members but people who care less about politics and come together to make these things accessible.”
 The Harahan Bridge will be reopened as a bike/ped crossing
In November 2011, Shelby County government was awarded the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant for $2.6 million to develop the Greenprint. The Memphis-Shelby County Office of Sustainability managed the three-year planning process. The Mid-South Regional Greenprint Consortium, which includes more than 300 individuals representing over 80 organizations, agencies and community groups, guided the process.
 
It was completed earlier this year, but at least part of its lifeblood has been going for years.

The Wolf River Greenway is a 36-mile paved off-road and on-road hike and bike trail that roughly follows the Wolf River from where it meets the Mississippi River east to Germantown and beyond.
 
Only 2.6 miles of the trail is open, but 20 miles within the city of Memphis is under design and slated for completion by 2019. Keith Cole, Executive Director of the Wolf River Conservancy, said the trail’s vision began with the conservancy in 1985.
 
“You look back to 1985 and they were visionaries with the idea of building a linear park through the city of Memphis,” he said. “We’ve estimated that the impact is within a 10-minute walk there are 100,000 people. Extend it to 20 minutes and it’s more than 200,000 people. … We say we’re connecting communities, but we should actually say we’re connecting people. We’re fond of calling this the corridor of opportunity.”
 
That’s the whole point, really, of the Greenprint and its mission of creating a massive regional network of a connected green infrastructure. The portion of the Wolf River Greenway that is completed connects to the Germantown Greenway. It also is adjacent to Shelby Farms Park, where walkers, runners and bicyclists can wind through an abundance of trails to the north side of the park and connect to the eastern terminus of the 6.5-mile Shelby Farms Greenline.
 
Eventually, the Hampline will link Shelby Farms Greenline at its western terminus at Tillman Street to Overton Park through Binghamton.
 
“We all want that connectivity so I think our project, the value to the region is the connectivity to the Big River Crossing and the Shelby Farms Park Greenline so we eliminate these islands and have better connectivity,” Cole said. “These projects are more than biking and running. They provide a real economic impact.”
 
It’s also a way to give Memphians the opportunity to make choices in how they get from Point A to Point B.
 
“If you look at where we are in Memphis, in so many critical areas the quality of life in our neighborhoods gets to the bottom of that,” Wharton said. “So much of that has to do with the feeling of choice. Do I have to get in a car, do I have to buy a car? It’s not a dictate that each citizen has to ride a bike 20 miles a month. It’s the freedom to have a choice of how do we get about. If you wish to run, fine, you have a safe place to do that. That means a lot to the folks we’re trying to recruit to our cities and our regions.”
 
Transportation is changing across the region, particularly in North Mississippi with the eventual completion of Interstate 269, connecting to Collierville and Fayette County down to Hernando and I-55.

Larry Jarrett, Greenways and Parks Director for DeSoto County Greenways, said his county’s 30- to 40-year plan took inventory of everything important, noting the abundance of wildlife while noting how 269 will change commuting patterns.
 
“Getting our local governments on board with all the majors sitting at the same table is a really important step and the Greenprint has allowed us to accomplish that,” he said. “We’ve seen more momentum. When you see people on the trails it brings out the best in people.”
 
The countywide recreational district started a greenways program in 2008 as part of a public-private partnership with the city of Hernando and DeSoto County government. It includes six county parks, two greenways and a partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
 
The first greenway is under development, with an anticipated construction start in the spring that will see three miles developed between U.S. Highway 61 and Wheeler Road. It eventually will connect to the city of Horn Lake followed by an east-west greenway that will connect Olive Branch, Southaven and Horn Lake.
 Shelby Farms Greenline
An additional 30 miles of mountain bike trails will be added adjacent to Arkabutla Lake.

“We’re doing this because it’s economic development,” Jarrett said. “In DeSoto County it contributes to quality of life and enhances tourism. It improves health and fitness, which is a problem in Mississippi.”
 
Across the Mississippi River, Paul Luker, Planning and Development Director for the city of West Memphis, is excited about the changes coming when the crossing on the Harahan Bridge is complete. The crossing will bring Downtown Memphis residents closer to what arguably could become a new “city” park.
 
“This concept of an eco-park is our version of Shelby Farms,” Luker said, referring to the idea of an eco-park that sits between the two highway bridges along the riverfront. “It will be another large regional park that is attractive to Downtown residents and unique to tourists to our area. By bringing more people to our side of the river it can lead to economic development, open up the opportunity to new housing and be an asset to existing residents. Their quality of life will increase by being close to this.”
 
The Mississippi River Levee System has been approved for bike use from West Memphis to Marianna, a stretch of some 70 miles. Bike gates are being installed, which will help keep farmers’ livestock from crossing fences. Ultimately, the project will connect St. Louis to New Orleans.
 
Residents of West Memphis and cyclists traveling up and down the Mississippi River Levee System on the western side of the river will have access to Downtown Memphis via the bridge project. And once the 36-mile Wolf River Greenway is complete, those West Memphis cyclists will have a connection to Fayette County via a quick jaunt up Memphis’ Main Street.
 
That’s three counties across two states and a massive river connected via a system of green. And in Memphis, it might seem like a dream but thanks to the Greenprint, it’s not far from reality.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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