Fun for many folks in Little Rock means shifting into recreational mode and heading out to the Arkansas River Trail, especially on one of its four long-span pedestrian bridges. And with popularity for these bridges growing, more may well be on the way.
Locals were amazed (and a few perturbed) with the construction of the first, The Big Dam Bridge, which cost a whopping $12 million to build. The Big Dam Bridge could arguably be considered the heart of the trail. Stretching 4,226 feet across the Arkansas River, it is the longest pedestrian bridge in the nation that was built specifically as a pedestrian bridge and not renovated as one. Weekends and evenings finds it bustling with walkers, joggers, and cyclist alike. During the day, the views from on top are well worth a walk across, even if you don’t need the exercise. But don’t miss visiting it at night when it is completely lit up by LED light technology, producing a dazzling show of colored lights.
Not all four of Little Rock’s long-span pedestrian bridges cross the Arkansas River. One of them, Two Rivers Bridge, crosses the Maumelle River to Two Rivers Park, a peninsula that juts out into the Arkansas River and abounds with white tail deer. The Two Rivers Bridge was just completed last year and is also engineered with LED lighting technology. It is within view of the Big Dam Bridge, so visitors can witness the light show of both bridges from the vantage point of either bridge.
Like the Two Rivers Bridge, the Clinton Park Bridge only recently made its debut in 2011. Its much anticipated opening was originally planned for 2006, but due to difficulties in funding, construction did not even begin until 2010. The bridge was formerly the old Rock Island Railroad Bridge before the Clinton Foundation renovated it as a pedestrian bridge and made it part of the Clinton Presidential Center. Its old trestles contrast the ultramodern look of the Clinton Library, but it is a contrast that works well. Indeed, Bill Clinton’s theme for the library’s design was “building a bridge to the 21st Century,” and the incorporation of the old architecture with the new lends itself to that image. But don’t let the old trestles fool you: the walkway of the bridge has been totally renovated and is lined with flower planters and modern lighting.
The last of the four bridges, though certainly not the least, is Junction Bridge. Like the Clinton Park Bridge, it was a former railroad bridge that was renovated. But it is a lift span bridge; the Clinton Park Bridge is not. In fact, it is the only lift span pedestrian bridge in the nation. Consequently, visitors must take either the elevator or the stairs to reach its upper level. Another popular feature of the bridge is its location, which connects to the River Market on the Little Rock side and is in close proximity to Alltel Arena and Dickey-Stephans Park on the North Little Rock side. Because of its centralized location, people can use the bridge to reach events on either side of the river. It especially sees a lot of use during Riverfest, the city's primary festival.
The River Trail and its pedestrian bridges are beginning to gain national attention. For instance, Bicycling Magazine named Little Rock one of the top 50 friendliest biking cities in the nation in 2011. Not bad since Southern cities have traditionally trailed other parts of the country in such rankings. But Little Rock may very well climb even higher in the rankings over the next few years if plans for the River Bluffs' section of the trail come to pass. The plan calls for the construction of a 4,500 foot elaborate segment of trail, much of which would be distributed among three pedestrian bridges. If built, this section of trail could turn out to be the most beautiful section of the River Trail yet. And that is not the only project being proposed in regards to pedestrian bridges. Rumors are circulating that Little Rock may convert Broadway Bridge to a bridge park, much in the style of the beautiful High Line Bridge in New York City. Broadway Bridge currently serves as a road traffic bridge across the Arkansas River downtown, but it will cease to function in that capacity once the new bridge at Chester is constructed. If these projects are realized, Little Rock may gain an unexpected title for itself: The American City with the Longest Network of Pedestrian Bridges, and wouldn’t that be nice for the city that has gone hog wild over pedestrian bridges.