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Railbed turns green

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Rock Island Greenway a ‘fantastic’ idea
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Mark and Sonja Burris walk down a part of the Rock Island Railroad bed that’s set to become the first segment in Ruston’s Rock Island Greenway biking and walking trail. Approximately 30 people hiked the portion of the rail bed that goes from West Kentucky Avenue to the I-20 service Thursday evening as part of this week’s Bike to Work Week activities. Officials have said they hope to open the leg of the trail this summer.

About 30 local residents and two dogs got a sneak preview Thursday evening of the first mile of what’s expected to become Ruston’s Rock Island Greenway biking and walking trail.
The trail follows the abandoned Rock Island Railroad bed.

“I think this is fantastic,” Tracy Hanks, of Ruston, said after completing a trek along the segment that stretches through the woods from West Kentucky Avenue to the Interstate 20 service road.

Hanks was reared not far from what was, until 1980, the functioning north-south rail line. She still lives nearby.

“I grew up when the railroad was there. It’s just amazing. We were absolutely threatened within minutes of our life if we got close to the railroad tracks and now we’re walking on it,” she said.

Though the rails and crossties were dismantled and sold for scrape after the Rock Island ceased operation, several pieces of rail and piles of rotten ties lie in the woods near what’s now a dirt path.

City officials want to remake the path into the first piece of a cycling and walking trail they envision eventually stretching the entire almost six miles of rail bed that runs through Ruston. The greenway project is part of the Moving Ruston Forward infrastructure program and will be funded partially through some of the revenue generated by a three-quarter-cent sales tax increase that goes into effect July 1.

Voters approved the tax increase in April.

The first segment of the greenway should open this summer, city Development Director Ammen Jordan said.

The city is in the process of obtaining the land.

Jordan said the two families who own the stretch from West Kentucky to I-20 bought it from the defunct railroad with the hope that it would someday be turned into a public recreation space.

“We want this stretch to really be a signature to what could become a larger trail system,” Jordan said.

The entire Rock Island Greenway would go from Cook Park, near the city’s northern limit, through downtown to Duncan Park in south Ruston, and perhaps further, Jordan said. The regional leg of the Rock Island ran from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Alexandria.

Thursday’s trail hike was part of the week’s Bike to Work Week event. Bike to Work Week ends today with a family friendly celebration in Railroad Park beginning at 5 p.m.

The event is free and will include children’s games, music, food and an award presentation to participating cyclists who’ve logged the most miles during the week.

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