In Arkansas, we can say “Big Dam Bridge” in polite company…because that’s the name of the longest pedestrian/bicycle bridge in North America that has never been used by motorized vehicles. And it happens to span the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock. Built exclusively for bikers and hikers, the concrete and steel structure rises to 65 feet over the surface of the Arkansas River and 30 feet over Murray Lock and Dam. Big Dam Bridge is also the only bridge built into a dam (as opposed to on top of a dam). The bridge stretches 4,226 linear feet, including five percent grade ramps on either side that curve into a 14-foot wide promenade with eight observation areas for viewing the Arkansas River and its shoreline.
Travelers from out-of-state often comment rather self-righteously on the bridge’s name. Judge Buddy Villines, the Pulaski County Judge who played a key role during the eight years from conception to completion, receives the credit. He posts on the bridge’s web site: “The first two or three years were tough, pulling together several federal, state, and local agencies. Despite the proposal that the bridge would economically boost both Little Rock and North Little Rock, and provide a place for healthy exercise, some residents resisted. The design was complex. The costs were great. At a point in time everyone involved was ready to quit, I walked into one of those meetings where frustrations ran high. My response was simple, ‘We’re going to build that dam bridge”. The group paused, and then laughed as they realized I meant ‘dam’ instead of ‘damn.’ But it served as an expression of resolve as we moved forward.”
Prior to its opening in 2006, Judge Villines took two marketing specialists up to a viewing point. One man commented: “Wow! This is big.” Judge Villines replied, “Yes, it’s a big dam bridge.” They recognized the marketing value, and the name “Big Dam Bridge” stuck.
On an unseasonably warm February day, Lee, Spot and I trekked across the bridge, beginning on the southern access near Little Rock’s Murray Park. We had plenty of company—joggers, bicyclists, young parents pushing baby strollers, and other folks walking dogs. The northern point ends at Cook’s Landing Park, barely outside North Little Rock’s city limits. The bridge links approximately 15 miles of scenic riverside trails, and assists in the connection of 70,000 acres of various city, county, state, and federal park land. The Two Rivers Park Bridge, expected to open in July, and the Junction Bridge, which already spans the Arkansas River between Little Rock and North Little Rock, and the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge opening in the fall, will allow people to hike or bike from the Clinton Center or Heifer International Headquarters to Pinacle Mountain State Park..
Big Dam Bridge already hosts organized walks, runs, bike rides, and an occasional wedding. However, its appeal is in the mix of residents and visitors from numerous states and foreign countries who have strolled across the span and embraced a sense of community. However, as I write this blog, Judge Villines is considering a ban of dogs on any of the pedestrian bridges crossing the Arkansas River. In an account in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on June 2, 2011, the Judge urged pet owners to clean up after their dogs. He said that while a contingency of residents are banning together to continue walking their dogs on the Big Dam Bridge, there are an equal number of citizens who prefer to not have dogs on the public bridges at any time. His decision hinges on whether or not dog owners begin to act responsibile about dog waste. In the RVing community, we understand the rules of proper disposal of our dogs’ elimination. Obviously from the complaints, many others do not adhere to this courtesy. The decision for or against dogs on the bridges connecting the two cities should be made by July.
Yet, Big Dam Bridge is more than a daytime experience–dogs or no dogs. The LED lighting display that occurs after dark contains 160 LED light fixtures on the piers, 16 LED light fixtures on the towers and 63 light fixtures on the walkway. The lighting is programmed with several different displays and sometimes has special programs for holidays. The Illumination Engineering Society of North America presented the IIDA Award of Merit to the bridge. Although, a few comment on the “redneck” name Big Dam Bridge, no one ever forgets it.
A hike across the bridge affords RVers an outdoor activity right on the fringe of Little Rock’s museums, shopping, and theaters. But in a city, where can RVers park?: Located a mere ten minutes from downtown Little Rock, the Maumelle U.S. Corps of Engineers Park offers spacious RV sites along the Arkansas River. The Downtown Riverside RV Park is located near Big Dam Bridge at 50 Riverfront Drive.
For more information click on: www.bigdambridge.com. For RV reservations to Downtown Riverside RV Park, call (501) 340-5312. Maumelle Park US Army Corps of Engineers, www.inarkansas.com/listing/129879/maumelle-park-us-army-corps-of-engineers, (501) 868-9477.