A $20 million matching grant from the Walton Family Foundation will help Arkansas complete the Delta Heritage Trail over the next five years, officials announced on Thursday.
When complete, the 84.5-mile biking and pedestrian trail will go from Lexa to Arkansas City. The governor expects the trail to create 600 jobs and increase tourism revenue.
The state will apply for federal grants to match the Walton grant, creating a $40 million investment in the trail.
“This is great news for cyclists and hikers, who have waited more than 20 years for the completion of this rails-to-trails project,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in the release. “The matching grant we announced today, combined with Arkansas Parks and Tourism funds, means that the wait is almost over.”
The trail’s master plan was approved in 1997, according to the release, and almost 45 miles of the trail are already complete.
The completed section includes 20.6 miles of compacted crush gravel between Lexa and Elaine, 14.4 miles of shared-use roadway on the Mississippi River levee between Rohwer and Arkansas City and 9.4 miles of compacted crushed gravel between Rohwer and Watson.
Grady Spann, the director of Arkansas State Parks, said that the new miles of gravel trails paid for by the investment will travel through hardwood forests and agricultural lands, while going over oxbow lakes and both the Arkansas and White rivers to connect the two existing ends of the trail.
Hutchinson, who rode a bike over portions of the existing trail early in his administration, praised the trail for its “beautiful canopy” of hardwood timber.
“There’s a beauty to it, but it’s also very flat which is nice if you don’t like the hills,” the governor said.
Jim Walton, member of the Walton Family Foundation, said in the release that the trail "will connect the region’s expansive natural beauty and create new ways to experience its unique cultural offerings."
“This joint effort is a dream nearly 30 years in the making, a bold idea now being realized in a community that, with continued support, can reach its enormous, untapped potential,” he said.
Read Friday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.