Big River Trail, Arkansas’ riverside trail system atop the Mississippi River’s levee system, has announced a 30-mile expansion from the southern end of the levee trail in Marianna through Downtown Helena and westward to the Arkansas Delta Heritage Trail.

The expansion is made possible by a $1.186 million grant provided by the Walton Family Foundation.

“This public-private partnership emphasizes the importance of elevating the tourism-related economic potential of small towns in Eastern Arkansas in the same manner other highly-visible trail systems have impacted small communities across America,” said Terry Eastin, executive director of Big River Strategic Initiative. “We’re grateful to the Walton family for supporting a sustainable vision.”

“The Helena expansion of the Big River Trail system will reinforce Arkansas’ rise as a national powerhouse in trail building, as well as improve the communities in Phillips County by supporting the tourism economy,” said Walton Family Foundation Associate Program Officer Angela Shirey.

The Big River Trail’s new cycling 30-mile route, which is scheduled to open by end of 2019, will offer camping, hiking, fishing and dining experiences under the canopy of the Ozark National Forest. The trail addition crosses Crowley’s Ridge, known as the most unique, smallest natural division of the state of Arkansas, as well as through the historic town of Helena-West Helena. The project will transform the “High Road” through St. Francis National Forest by providing paving and striping, signage and other safety features as well as reduced speed limits for motorists to ensure cyclists’ safety.

From downtown Helena, the trail turns west through low-use country roads to Highway 300, where it will eventually connect to the Arkansas Delta Heritage Trail (DHT), a 100+-mile trail, with 29 miles constructed, leading to Arkansas City and managed by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

“This is a natural next step toward making the Arkansas Delta a cycling mecca,” Eastin continued. “With more than 150 recreational sites and opportunities along the way, Big River Trail introduces the world’s largest manmade levee system, expansive agricultural operations, one of the country’s largest remaining hardwood forests, Civil War historic sites, natural areas with rare plant life, and some of the finest southern cooking to be found anywhere in Arkansas.”

In October 2016, the mile-long pedestrian bike bridge Big River Crossing opened its gates and has since welcomed over 300,000 bikers and pedestrians on the mighty Mississippi River from Downtown Memphis to West Memphis, Arkansas. Big River Crossing’s Arkansas trailhead currently leads to the 70 miles of riverside trails atop the Mississippi’s levee system to Marianna.