MEMPHIS DAILY NEWS | BILL DRIES
The Harahan Bridge across the Mississippi River marks its 100th anniversary this week with an eye toward the Oct. 22 opening of the Big River Crossing.
The crossing on the north side of the bridge is a $17.5 million pedestrian and bicycle boardwalk over the river.
The rail bridge opened 100 years ago this week with what were called “wagon ways” on each side – boardwalks for wagons and automobiles – before the main bridge for Memphis-Arkansas auto traffic opened in the 1940s.
The third element was the railroad bridge crossing, called the Frisco Bridge, which was the city’s original bridge across the Mississippi River.
There won’t be any celebration of the Harahan’s centennial this week. Much of that is being reserved for Oct. 22.
The anniversary will be marked with an unveiling of the branding of the project, including the Big River Trail and the Delta Regional River Park – the two destinations on the Arkansas side of the crossing.
The trail is a greenway into West Memphis and a 17-mile levee trail system beyond that, as well as trails in the river park, which is the flood plain between the Mississippi River and the levees that protect West Memphis from flooding.
“The trails are going to be a huge asset for ecotourism, geo-tourism and as the park continues to get developed, it’s a destination for those on both sides of the bridge,” said Doug Carpenter, who is overseeing the branding and marketing campaigns.
The unveiling of the branding on Thursday, July 14, will include the launch of a website on the Big River Crossing and other social media links to the project.
The website will have a video offering a 360-degree view from the boardwalk to whet the public’s appetite.
“We will publicly share some details about the events of Oct. 22,” Carpenter said. “We will share the new brand for Big River Crossing. We’ll share some historical information as well as current videos of the bridge.”
On Oct. 22, the boardwalk will open to the public at 1 p.m., according to Carpenter. A light show and fireworks are planned.
“Everything will be ready for public consumption by Oct. 22,” he said. “This is essentially setting the table for that.”
The Oct. 22 festivities will coincide with two other events Downtown, the St. Jude Bike-A-Thon and the River Arts Festival on South Main.
City Hall and the Memphis Area Transit Authority are coordinating a transportation plan to get Memphians to the bridge and to the bike-a-thon and River Arts Festival without tying up traffic any more than is necessary.
“It’s a pretty substantial public and private effort across the board,” Carpenter said of the coordination and planning of events for Oct. 22.
It was 30 years ago in September that the city marked the lighting of the Hernando DeSoto Bridge in a $373,000 effort funded by private donors.
The lighting featured a marathon by the river and a gala on Mud Island.
Three years later, the riverfront’s next big party was the 1989 “Big Dig” – a ceremonial groundbreaking for construction of The Pyramid in which a 75-foot tall, 600-pound shovel was dropped with a flare of fireworks, capping a street festival and party in the Pinch District.
Carpenter said the October opening of the Big River Crossing is a different kind of event for a different kind of attraction.
“To me, these are evergreen assets for Memphis and West Memphis, for tourism and for residents,” he said. “Big River Crossing will be a cultural amenity.”