Terry Eastin Keeps Steady Course at Big River Strategic Initiative

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jul. 2, 2018 12:00 am   3 min read

Terry Eastin 
Executive Director of the Big River Strategic Initiative LLC (Beth Hall)

Terry Eastin, who lives in Fayetteville, heads the Big River Strategic Initiative, which seeks to increase tourism along the Mississippi River. She previously was executive director of Mississippi River Trail Inc. and Arkansas River Trail project coordinator for the city of Little Rock. As a consultant for the city of Little Rock, Eastin helped develop the Arkansas River Trail Medical Mile project.

Eastin is a recipient of the Kodak American Greenways Award presented by the National Geographic Society, the Eastman Kodak Co. and the Conservation Fund for her work on the Mississippi River Trail. In 2016, Arkansas Delta Byways recognized her as the Tourism Person of the Year. 

What sparked the idea for the Big River Strategic Initiative?
Charlie McVean, an entrepreneur and philanthropist in Memphis, created BRSI. During the construction of the Big River Crossing, the longest pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi, McVean realized the vast potential for trails and new recreation facilities in West Memphis and surrounding areas, particularly on top of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ levees, which provide unencumbered views of agricultural production, the river and one of the largest hardwood forests remaining in America.

The purpose of the Big River Strategic Initiative is threefold:

1) to develop the Mississippi River as a world-class attraction for international visitors;

2) to encourage economic development in eastern Arkansas by creating and promoting the use of a trail system loosely connecting about 200 recreation sites in the Delta between West Memphis and Arkansas City;

and 3) to create jobs that encourage young people to remain in the Delta, jobs that provide experience and education on the value of local history, culture, lore and recreation from an economic standpoint.

The goal is to inspire them to be entrepreneurs and advocates of the Delta.

The initiative has several parts. What needs to happen first?
Infrastructure development, plain and simple. Initial infrastructure is key to increasing visitation. There must be a demand for services that can be answered by residents and Arkansas businesses.

A $1.2 million grant from the Walton Foundation will help develop a 30-mile section of the Big River Trail project connecting Mississippi River State Park to Arkansas’ Delta Heritage Trail through Helena-West Helena. The foundation knows the importance of alternate transportation as an economic driver. For example, the foundation reported that cycling returned $137 million in economic benefits to northwest Arkansas in 2017. There’s no reason why eastern Arkansas can’t take advantage of the interest in cycling by creating more long-distance trails. Yes, the initial return will be smaller, but it will grow.

Another element of the Big River Strategic Initiative is a program founded by McVean called Peer Power, a high school tutoring program in Memphis public schools that has raised graduation rates and college attendance. But education alone won’t encourage youth to remain in their local communities. There must be jobs.

When it comes to promoting tourism, do you see the Big River Trail as a case of “if you build it, they will come”?
That is true in a way. Word of mouth is invaluable to the success of any project. But the combination of infrastructure development and marketing is a better means for creating impact more quickly. Our advertising firm, Doug Carpenter & Associates of Memphis, handles the marketing aspect of what we create.

What is the biggest challenge to drawing visitors to the area?
The lack of existing tourism resources such as places to host travelers, whether that be local homes, bed and breakfasts or venues that provide food and beverages. As tourism improves and demand escalates, smart business leaders will find ways to meet the demand.



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