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Federal Programs and Legislation

Mississippi River Trail proposes National Park Service Centennial Initiative

Project will construct 30 miles of trail in Arkansas and signage for 800 miles of Mississippi River Trail routes, including 72 miles in Mississippi National River and Recreation Area.

By Terry Eastin

Coursing from the headwaters of the Mississippi River at Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Delta at the Gulf of Mexico in Louisiana, the Mississippi River Trail is envisioned as a 3,000-mile system of bicycle-friendly roads and multi-use pathways, linking communities and parks. Mississippi River Trail, Inc., is working in partnership with federal, state and local agencies and organizations to complete this interstate recreational trail system. Approximately 2,000 miles of trail are complete and 1,000 miles of trail remain to be constructed or enhanced.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service in 2016, a Centennial Initiative has been proposed which will prepare parks for the next century when new trends will reshape our society and make unprecedented demands of preservation, education, and recreation. This enduring legacy of the centennial will engage new generations of Americans in the values of the national park system. The Centennial goals to guide the National Park Service toward its 100th anniversary include: stewardship, environmental leadership, recreational experience, education, and professional excellence.

Growing out of project work and partnerships of the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program, Mississippi River Trail has submitted a visionary proposal for inclusion in the National Park Service Centennial Initiative. The Mississippi River Trail -- Connecting National Parks to Communities Centennial Proposal is a multi-park, multi-state project that forwards the National Park Centennial themes of Recreation Experience and Resource Stewardship through an innovative partnership model that is centered on promoting the Mississippi River Experience.

This project will illustrate what it means to work in partnership and demonstrate a record of accomplishments beginning, with construction of 30 miles of off-road trail in Arkansas in 2008, with physical and interpretive connections to Arkansas Post National Memorial. Signage for 800 miles of Mississippi River Trail, including the 72-mile Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service, is planned for 2009. This project is envisioned as a ten- year effort, which will continue with additional projects and outreach efforts connecting national parks to communities along the route in all 10 states, culminating in a completed trail in 2016.

"This project will expand the Mississippi River Trail in Arkansas by adding 30 miles from Helena to McGhee on the Arkansas Delta Heritage Trail," reported Richard Davies, Executive Director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. Director Davies went on to add, "The Mississippi River and the Trail tie us together. This program will allow us to develop new public resources while helping us interpret the historical inter-relationships in ways that further engage our youth in the Mississippi River and the national park system, beginning right here in Arkansas."

The Mississippi River Trail is a means to bolster awareness and visitation in a broad array of well known and lesser-known national parks, with a united theme of the Mississippi River as an icon for recreational experience and healthy living, environmental conservation, and resource stewardship. According to Terry Eastin, Executive Director, Mississippi River Trail, Inc., "Programs and interpretive displays that engage America's youth in the Mississippi River experience such as "Bike With a Ranger" and other organized rides, walks, programs, and paddlefests will demonstrate the continuity of the Mississippi River Basin by linking its heritage to the future of our national park system."

Mississippi River Trail, Inc. and its Executive Director, Arkansas native, Terry Eastin, have earned the prestigious Conservation Fund "Kodak American Greenways National Award for 2007 along with Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.). This award, presented by The Conservation Fund, Eastman-Kodak, and the National Geographic Society, recognizes outstanding individuals or organizations for leadership in fostering a national network of greenways.

The organization was also designated as a "Showcase Agency" for its leadership to advance health and livability in the Mississippi River region during the April 2007 "National Health and Livability Summit" hosted by the National Recreation and Parks Association in Atlanta, Ga. As a showcase agency, Mississippi River Trail, Inc. was recognized as a "shining example that builds relevance for the role of trails in promoting health and livability at the local, state, and federal levels."

The Centennial Initiative is a potential $3 billion investment in the national park system over the next decade. There are two elements for funding: the first is $100 million a year for 10 years of increases for basic park operations. The second element, $2 billion, is the centennial challenge: a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $100 million a year for 10 years. Congress is expected to take up Centennial initiative bills and complete work on the National Park Service budget in the fall.

Contact: Terry Eastin, Executive Director, Mississippi River Trail, Inc., 858 N. Jackson, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701 - Phone: 479-236-0938 - Fax: 479-571-2665 - terry@mississippirivertrail.org - www.mississippirivertrail.org

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