In January 2020, we reported that Arkansas State Parks had accepted a gift of $20 million from the Walton Family Foundation. This money would be used as matching grant monies that would allow for as much as $40 million to complete the construction of this 84.5-mile rails-to-trails project. At the time, 44.5 miles had been completed but the work was slow starting in 1997 according to Stacy Hurst, Secretary, of the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism.
Completing the trail was a dream of former Parks Director, Grady Spann upon taking over the parks division in 2016. “The Delta Heritage Trail is important and critical to a very underserved part of Arkansas. We need to be balanced as a park system in serving all areas of the state. The potential it has to bring in and generate tourism dollars to the delta is needed and can spur other tourism infrastructure development to highlight what makes the Arkansas Delta so special. Tourism in the delta should be a priority for state parks and the communities it touches,” said Spann.
By November 2021, the parks had received Federal matching funds of $20,482,208 from the US Department of Transportation through its Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Discretionary Grant Program. Arkansas State Parks has also worked toward other financing to cover the costs of finishing the trail.
A year later, we reached out to the current parks director, Shea Lewis, to check on the current status of the trail. Below is a map he provided showing what is complete and what is planned.
Consider the trail broken up into three sections. The north section from Lexa to Snow Lake, the south section from Arkansas City, north to Yancopin, and the middle section between Snow Lake and Yancopin.
The North Section Status
According to park staff, Phase VII, the 9-mile section from Elaine to Mellwood is under construction with expected completion in the Summer of 2023. Phase VIII, the 12.1-mile section from Mellwood to Snow Lake is all so under construction and should be complete by the Fall of 2023.
These two sections, along with the 20.5 miles of trail already completed from Lexa to Elaine would bring the total mileage on the north part of the trail to 41.6 miles. That’s over an 80-mile round trip for our distance cyclist friends.
The South Section Status
The south end is complete from Arkansas City, north to Yancopin. The Trail was originally planned to only go as far south as Rohwer. The section from there to Arkansas City was added through work with the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Most of this runs along the Mississippi River Levee and is paved.
The Middle Section Status
This will be the most costly, arguably the most beautiful, and certainly the most unique section of the Delta Heritage Trail. “Riding north across the Yancopin Bridge, park guests will enter one of the most remote bottomland hardwood forests in the region, in an area known locally as ‘Big Island.’ The trail commonly traverses trestles – long rail bridges built high above swamps and flood plains – that are 40 or more feet above the ground and offer spectacular views of the White River and Arkansas River bottomlands,” Delta Heritage Trail State Park Superintendent Geoff Wright said. “The trail continues through this unique habitat across the Benzal Bridge and on towards Snow Lake, where it turns back into agricultural land.”
Visitors should be able to experience all 84.5 miles of trail in 2-3 years without environmental or funding issues. Once complete, it is expected that it can make good on the promise made 25 years ago. For more on current offerings at this unique park go to their website, www.arkansasstateparks.com/parks/delta-heritage-trail-state-park.
A bike/walking trail in any state, county, town, hamlet, etc is a good thing. At 67 years old I’m still very fit and still riding a “me bike” no ebike for me. i hope I live long enough to ride a bunch more. i particuarly enjoy multi day rides where I’m self contained and traveling a certain distance to a camping or indoor lodging option.
AO (Joe), great work as usual – thanx for getting that elusive update !!!
I travelled the Snow Lake section with the ranger that patrolled the old rail and future trail 20 years ago when the first phase of construction was just beginning. Incredibly beautiful with so much wildlife to view. I have been riding each section as it has been completed and plan to be one if the first to ride it end to end.
Do you have any suggestions for getting from Snow Lake to Watson while the trail is under construction? It seems like there aren’t really any options except to backtrack north to DeWitt and cross the Arkansas River at Pendleton. Do you have any suggestions or tips (even forest roads!) that are quicker?
Thanks in advance!
The issue is that the closest bridge to get across the White River is at St. Charles, Arkansas. There are probably some gravel roads to get near there and once on the westside, to get down to the bridge over the White River which isn’t far from Watson but that is it. Expect a 6 to 8 hour bike ride to get from Snow Lake to Watson, Less if you leave the DHT at Elaine.
I was afraid of that, but thanks for confirming my fears. I was deep into google earth satellite images looking for ANY sort of crossing of the White River through the Trusten Holden WMA…. glad to confirm there’s not really anything there at this time.
Now I understand the real need for this middle portion!!