Imagine thinking that 5 years after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, a public space would open up on top of a federally managed dam. It was a time when most federal facilities were made off limits to the public. Fences had been put up. tours ended, the country was hunkering down, protecting itself from another attack. It is easy to think of this project being cancelled, no one would have been surprised. Luckily, local officials and advocates led by then Pulaski County Judge, Buddy Villines, then Little Rock Mayor, Jim Dailey, and then North Little Rock Mayor, Pat Hays continued to push for the dream, a bicycle/pedestrian bridge, one of the longest in the world would be built atop the Murray Lock & Dam, managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Every time I see the bridge I’m reminded that we can do anything if we set our minds and backs to it. Whenever someone says that we can never do “whatever” I point at the bridge and remind them that if we can build that, we can do anything.
Ten years ago, Lisa and I were lucky enough to be in the group of first official riders across the bridge. We wore our yellow Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas t-shirts. Speeches were made on both sides of the river. We crossed once and then decided to join the 5K run that would then go back across. I had to ride back to our car to get some running shoes (that was 3 times across). Then we ran across and back again (bringing my crossings up to 5). Eventually, we crossed one more time to get back to our car once the festivities were done. (6 crossings that day).
Since that day I’ve made the trip hundreds of times. Our family rang in the new year once atop the bridge, celebrating with a thermos of hot chocolate, it was a cold night. I’ve crossed in bike races, rides, adventure races and runs. I took engagement photos for my eldest daughter on the bridge. I’ve been on the bridge at all times of the day and night. I’ve even done a live interview with Craig O’Neill of Channel 11 from the bridge on its importance to the region for tourism, recreation, and health. Last night I had the honor to meet a friend in the middle of the bridge to go for a ride to celebrate his birthday. It’s been a large part of my life for the past 10 years.
I really wish I could figure out how much money was given to various charities because of the bridge and the trail. Yearly events held as fundraisers happen almost every weekend somewhere on the trail sometimes multiple events in a day. That’s 104 weekend days a year (more with holidays) for 10 years. That has to be a big number.
Once the Big Dam Bridge was completed, central Arkansas got on a bike/pedestrian bridge kick. The Junction Railroad Bridge downtown was readapted to connect North Little Rock and Little Rock with an easy, safe walkway. The Clinton Library Bridge was redesigned to create an eastern connection for the Arkansas River Trail completing the main loop of the trail section (there is still work to be done on the Little Rock side of the trail). The Two Rivers Bridge and a western ramp to the Big Dam Bridge were built to connect the Arkansas River Trail with points west and making the 88-mile trail system a reality. All that in 10 years.
Improvements on the Bridge and the Arkansas River Trail continue. The new bathrooms on the Little Rock side of the bridge are almost completed. By next Spring the new Broadway Bridge should be open complete with a protected bicycle-walking lane. New sections of the trail in Little Rock are set to be open soon as the city continues to try to “Close the Gap” in the trail.
Today I was lucky enough again to attend the 10-year anniversary celebration of the bridge, seeing all the key players in the original dream and visiting with many of the friends I share the bridge with every day. Happy Birthday Big Dam Bridge, pretty sure I’ll see you at least twice this weekend.
Here are a few facts from the Bridge Web site:
- 4226 linear feet of bridge
- 679 feet of walled embankment
- 14 feet wide
- 54 inches to the top of the handrail
- Approaches to the bridge are at 5% grade
- 72 feet above the Arkansas River upstream
- 90 feet above the Arkansas River downstream
- 8 observation areas
- Capable of holding two 36″ utility pipelines
- Contains over 3 million pounds of steel
- Contains over 24 million pounds of concrete
- 160 L.E.D. light fixtures on the piers
- 16 L.E.D. light fixtures on the towers
- 63 light fixtures for walkway illumination