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District 21 Rep. Travis Johnson of Vidalia announced this week that former Vidalia Mayor Hyram Copeland and the former administrator of Riverland Medical Center Billy Rucker will co-chair the Delta Trail Committee.

Johnson authored legislation last year creating an 80-mile biking/walking trail along the Mississippi River from Vidalia to Lake Providence. He said the trail would result in improved health for Louisiana residents and bring economic benefits as well.

Also serving on the committee will be Johnson as an honorary member along with the following:

Scott McLemore, Concordia Bank & Trust board member.

Joe Parker, president of the Concordia Parish Police Jury.

Kendall Thompson, president of the East Carroll Police Jury.

Andy Brister, assistant district attorney for the 6th Judicial District.

Jane Sanders, president of the Madison Parish Police Jury.

Leslie Durham, Delta Regional Authority.

Rod Webb, president of the Tensas Parish Police Jury.

Lynette Ewell, Madison Parish advocate.

“This month, I established the Delta Trail Committee which will be responsible for helping bring this project to fruition,” Johnson said.

He said the committee met for the first time on Jan. 7 and later met with Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser and officials with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development via Zoom.

“We began talking with all stakeholders and planning commissioner,” he said.

“When we complete this endeavor, this will be one of the longest bike trails in the nation and will bring a huge number of tourists to Northeast Louisiana. But the greatest benefit of all is that this project will help improve the health and welfare of our citizens and beautify the area.

“Imagine what a bike and walking trail along the Mississippi River would mean for all of Louisiana.”

Johnson’s legislation creating the trail points to studies indicating that bicycling in northwest Arkansas provides an economic benefit of $137 million “with bike tourism serving as an economic driver from tourists spending $27 million at local businesses each year.”

One study shows that houses within a quarter mile of the Razorback Regional Greenway “sell for an average of nearly $15,000 more than houses two miles from the trail.”

The legislation also refers to a study by the Outdoor Industry Association that biking trails create enormous economic benefits throughout the country and support 848,000 jobs.

The trails “provide affordable exercise and recreation opportunities within the community and can aid in increasing the overall health of people in communities due to an increase in outdoor activities,” according to the legislation.

CRT and DOTD are to identify trail routes and the benefits of bicycle tourism trails as well as design criteria and estimate costs. Additionally, the agencies are to suggest ideas for stakeholder engagement as well as for sustainability and best practices, and also outline challenges with bicycle trail planning and development.

The agencies will address objectives “for the tourism trail routes that establish the criteria for route locations, map routes, and connect exiting bicycle, transit, rail, vehicle, and pedestrian networks with potential tourism trails.”

Safety, the coordination of bikeway trial connections statewide and costs associated with development of various bikeway accommodations are also to be addressed.

The main goals of the bill are to improve the health of the populace, provide enhanced recreation, increase retail sales and tourism, attract businesses and increase property values in northeastern Louisiana.

The findings and recommendations of CRT and DOTD are to be presented prior to March 1, 2021.

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