September 29, 2010 Edition

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Paving, bridge extend
Rails to Trails project

Ronnie Pierce (second, from left), manager of Barton's of Walnut Ridge, looks over the bridge on the newly completed section of the Rails to Trails with 'Trails' board members (from left): Junior Briner, Sherry Moore and Brett Cooper. Other board members are Lee Turnbull and Sue Whitmire. Barton's donated materials and labor for the bridge.
John Bland

Brett Cooper, Rails to Trails board member, updated the Kiwanis Club recently on progress and plans for the Rails to Trails project. In August, another mile of the trail, extending from Swan Street (behind Barton's of Walnut Ridge) to County Road 438, which is the Old Walnut Ridge Road, was paved.

"We're very pleased with the usage it's getting, especially the new section," Cooper said.

The newly paved stretch includes a bridge over Village Creek. Cooper said Barton's of Walnut Ridge donated both materials and labor to convert the railroad bridge into a suitable bridge for the trail.

With remaining funds from the most recent Rails to Trails grant, Cooper said an additional quarter of a mile will be paved, making the paved portion of the trail approximately three miles long.

Phase four, the next phase of the trail paving, will start from the northern end of the trail, near Contech Mfg., at the airport and industrial park, and extend a mile south.

Funding for phase four has been secured, although it is not yet available, Cooper said. The Rails to Trails Board has also applied for a phase five grant, which would allow for the paving of another mile.

Paving of the trail began at the trail head in Hoxie, near Memphis Street, where a former railroad spur of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad began. The railroad spur extended northward through Walnut Ridge to the industrial park, approximately 6.7 miles.

Phase one consisted of paving from the trailhead to Midway Road, at the Hoxie-Walnut Ridge border. Phase two paved the trail from Midway Road to Swan Street in Walnut Ridge.

Cooper said that Rails to Trails has been receiving about one grant a year from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department to fund additional phases.

A 1983 law passed by Congress allowed abandoned railways could be converted to walking and biking trails. Cooper said the owner of the Rails to Trails is Lawrence County. BNSF transferred the spur to the county, he said.

Getting the trail paved has been the first priority of the Rails to Trails Board, Cooper said, while such additions as lighting and benches are secondary at this time. The City of Hoxie has added a couple of benches along the trail in Hoxie, and the Rotary Club plans to add benches to a stretch the club adopted just south of Main Street in Walnut Ridge.

When asked about the trail crossing U.S. Hwy. 67, Cooper noted that signage will be required to encourage extra caution by trail users and motorists.

Cooper also serves as chairman of the Tourism Committee of the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. He told The TD, "To say the least, we're excited about how the trail has developed and what we still have planned for it."

According to the Sept. 24, 2003, TD files, the idea for the local Rails to Trails project was the suggestion of Monte Fuller, who was then Lake Charles State Park superintendent. He was aware of similar projects in other areas and introduced the idea in a Chamber of Commerce tourism committee meeting.

Cooper, who was Chamber Board chairman at the time, said the committee members were immediately enthusiastic. The Leadership Lawrence County Alumni then voted to adopt the project.

Current members of the Rails to Trails Board are Junior Briner, Brett Cooper, Sherry Moore, Lee Turnbull and Sue Whitmire.

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