Today, I’d like to talk about our progress in completing the Delta Heritage Trail, an 88-mile hiking and biking path through some of the prettiest landscape in Arkansas.

The most recent development in the project is the $20 million the U.S. Department of Transportation granted to the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism to complete the trail. The support of our congressional delegation helped secure this grant.

The Delta Heritage Trail has been 30 years in the making, starting in the early ’90s when Union Pacific Railroad transferred to Arkansas the rights to use 77 miles of abandoned railbed. It is part of the national “rails-to-trails” program. The first segment of the trail opened near Lexa in 2002.

The $20 million grant will allow State Parks to use all of a $20 million matching grant the Walton Family Foundation pledged in 2020 to ensure the trail will be complete by the end of 2025. The 88-mile trail runs from Lexa to Arkansas City.

The trail’s corridor includes 887 acres of natural Delta lowlands, 58 bridges, including train bridges over the White and Arkansas rivers. The Yancopin Bridge, which crosses the Arkansas River, was built by the Memphis, Helena and Louisiana Railway in 1903.

Grady Spann, an avid cyclist who is retiring as director of Arkansas State Parks at the end of the year, notes that the trail traverses the Dale Bumpers National Wildlife Refuge with its old-growth cypress trees that feels like Jurassic Park. Birdwatchers will love this section of the trail, and one of the many black bears who roam there may wander into view.

Six years ago, I rode 5 miles of the trail under a canopy of hardwoods. I saw eastern Arkansas as it was a hundred years ago.

The trail meanders through the Delta’s rich farmland past farmers as they till, plant and harvest in season. The author Ernest Hemingway hunted ducks between Rohwer and Yancopin.

The Delta Heritage Trail will enhance Arkansas’ reputation as a destination for bike riders. The International Mountain Biking Association has designated five of our mountain bike trails as Epic Trails. The northern trailhead of the 66-mile Southwest Trail will be at Central High and will link Little Rock to Hot Springs National Park. It will be the only trail in the nation to connect national historic sites.

Plans call for the Southwest Trail to join the Arkansas River Trail, which will create a seamless 153-mile system through five counties. The 73-mile Big River Trail atop the Mississippi River levee connects Memphis to Marianna; its southern trailhead is about 20 miles from the Delta Heritage trailhead.

The Delta Heritage Trail is another gem in our string of recreational sites. It follows the Mississippi River and stitches together the historic sites to tell the story of the Delta. The Delta Heritage Trail offers access to a beautiful part of the Natural State that many haven’t seen. I hope many Arkansans will pedal the entire trail when it’s complete.

Asa Hutchinson is the 46th governor of Arkansas. To contact him, visit governor.arkansas.gov/.

Asa Hutchinson is the 46th governor of Arkansas. To contact him, visit governor.arkansas.gov/.

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