Over the past couple of years, more than 100 miles of bike trails, paths, and greenlines have been established all over the city. But no one linear path connects the entire county from the Mississippi River to Collierville.
That may begin to change by 2019 if the plans to extend the Wolf River Greenway go according to schedule. The Wolf River Conservancy has a goal of extending the existing Wolf River Greenway from Walnut Grove and Humphreys to Mud Island by 2019. That's a total of 18.4 miles within the city limits.
Other future Wolf River Greenway proposals that fall outside the city limits would stretch the greenway east all the way to Collierville, making the path a total of 36 miles.
Currently, the existing Wolf River Greenway runs along the Wolf River near Humphreys for about seven miles. About 2.7 miles of that falls within the city limits, beginning near Walnut Grove and Humphreys. It runs to the Germantown city limits where it merges with the Germantown Greenway.
"We've just completed a survey of the entire 18.4 miles that's in the city's jurisdiction. We've taken four segments of that 18.4 miles, and those are currently under design," said Chuck Flink, senior adviser at Alta Planning + Design, the design firm working on the project.
Flink, one of the nation's leading greenway planners, has worked on numerous trail and greenspace projects in more than 200 communities across the world. He literally wrote the book on greenway design as the author of Greenways: A Guide to Planning, Design and Development, and Trails for the Twenty-First Century.
Those four segments under design include the greenway's path through Kennedy Park, through Epping Way in Raleigh, the stretch from Mud Island to Second Street, and the area from Walnut Grove to the Shelby Farms Greenline.
Additionally, the city is in charge of completing three segments — McLean to Hollywood, McLean to Chelsea, and McLean to Rodney Baber Park. Design for those segments is also underway.
Keith Cole, executive director of the Wolf River Conservancy, said the group is still working on right-of-way acquisition in some areas along the proposed path, but he doesn't expect they'll run into problems.
"We're not seeing a lot of pushback, and we're not displacing anybody," Cole said. "Most of these properties [we need to acquire] are small and uninhabited. They're in the floodplain."
Once complete, the Wolf River Greenway is expected to add 1,126,000 more bicycle trips in the county per year and 4,650,000 more walking trips, according to the Wolf River Conservancy. But they expect the greenway to have residual effects on the surrounding neighborhoods, too.
"Some of these areas in North Memphis [in the greenway's path] are somewhat blighted and historically underserved, so we've been challenged to look at ways in which the greenway can become catalytic as an investment to drive new business development, job growth, creation, and workforce development," Flink said.
Cole hopes the project will further the city's growing interest in outdoor recreation since the proposed path would improve access to the Wolf River. Parts of the path will run along areas of the river that are currently overgrown, making it difficult to access the river.
"We will improve access to the urban Wolf. There's a big canoeing and kayaking effort in the city today, even with the poor access that we have," Cole said. "Increasing access to the Wolf would be part of the process."
The total cost for construction is around $40 million, and about $7.5 million of that is expected to come from the city through its capital improvement program. The conservancy has already raised about $22 million toward the project through private funds, and Cole says they will launch a public fund-raising campaign in 2016.