Developers of the 3,000-mile Mississippi River Trail (MRT), a bike path following the river from Minnesota to New Orleans, took two different approaches when they designed the route in 1996.
In states north of Tennessee, developers held public meetings and spoke with local planning organizations to determine what route the trail should take. In the other river trail states, the departments of transportation picked the routes.
Almost 10 years later, the trail's Southern section is underutilized, so Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi are planning to redo their parts of the trail. Last Tuesday, representatives from the MRT held a public meeting at Otherlands to get opinions from Memphis cyclists.
"We're going back and rethinking the trail," said MRT executive director Terry Eastin. "The departments of transportation treated trails as roads and that doesn't work for cyclists. I've been on parts that, quite frankly, could use some improvement."
According to Eastin, one of the main concerns is the proximity of the trail to busy highways and streets. She'd like to see the trail take a more bike-friendly route, passing by tourist attractions and parks.
"In Memphis, the trail starts at Mud Island and goes north past Second Street. Certain places are heavily traveled by cars and even big rigs," said Mason Bettenga, a cyclist from a local racing team. "Some of the roads haven't been paved in a while."
At the meeting, Eastin and Larry LaGarde, the Mid-South coordinator for the MRT, asked cyclists to ride 10-mile portions of the 177 miles of trail that stretch through Tennessee and critique them. Their input will be used to help develop new routes.
"We need you to tell us about scenic overlooks on the trail, bed and breakfasts nearby, or problems you encounter along the trail," said LaGarde. After two months, the information will be compiled and results will be announced. LaGarde did not have maps ready for bikers to adopt segments Tuesday night, but he encouraged everyone to check his blog (http://world-class-bike-trails.blogspot.com) to sign up for a segment. LaGarde said anyone can sign up, not just avid cyclists.