Trail of the Month: July 2004
Delta Heritage Trail, Arkansas
Eastern Arkansas' Delta region is getting a boost to its green space notoriety. Already home to the White River National Wildlife Refuge, one of the nation's oldest wildlife areas, the region plans to play host to one of the country's newest long-distance rail-trails: The Delta Heritage Trail.
In 1992, the Union Pacific Railroad Company donated a 73-mile right-of-way to the state of Arkansas, which began plans to develop the swath of state park land as a rail-trail. Named for the region's rich history and culture, the Delta Heritage Trail's northern four miles have already been completed, connecting the Helena junction trailhead to Barton. An additional trailhead is located at Walnut Corner at the U.S. 49 overpass, and the completed miles are surfaced with crushed rock, offering a smooth bike ride, walk or jog through Delta farmland and fields.
The entire corridor, preserved for interim trails use under the Railbanking provision of the National Trails System Act, runs from Lexa (six miles west of Helena) south to Cypress Bend (five miles northeast of McGehee). The 73-mile corridor passes through some of the most remote and scenic areas remaining in the Delta region of eastern Arkansas. The region was once covered by a bottomland hardwood forest extending from Cairo, Ill., to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Today only fragments of this great forest remain as much of the land is separated and surrounded by agricultural development. Once completed, the middle portion of the trail will pass through some of the finest examples of the remaining wetland forest.
Future trail development will open the section south of Snow Lake, where the route becomes a shady tunnel through overhanging vegetation with openings where old railroad bridges cross sloughs and bayous. For six miles the trail will adjoin the 160,000-acre White River National Wildlife Refuge. The route also crosses the White River on a high, steel bridge with a long, elevated trestle on either end. For three miles between the Arkansas and White rivers, the trail will pass through the dense bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands of the Trusten Holder State Game Management Area.
The Delta Heritage Trail is just one of many attractions in the Delta region. The region is fast becoming a crossroads for tourist activity, just as it has been a junction for frontiersmen, traders and planters since becoming part of the United States. In addition to the wildlife refuge, the region is home to the Louisiana Purchase Highway, the Great River Road and Crowley's Ridge National Scenic Byway. Tourists also come to learn about Delta life at the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, near the Delta Heritage Trail's northern trailhead. Camping opportunities are found in the St. Francis National Forest, which provide a rugged camping experience, while more comfortable campsites are available in Corps of Engineers' recreation areas along the Arkansas River near the south end of the Delta Heritage Trail.