Canoe & Kayak Race -- Riverfront Users give their Suggestions

This year’s 26th Annual Outdoors Inc. Canoe & Kayak Race on May 5th may have been the best ever -- lots of paddlers, hikers, runners, walkers, and riverfront lovers enjoying a slightly cloudy morning on the river.

Lots of people stopped by the FfOR booth to visit. As a "placemaking" experiment and follow-up to the Project for Public Spaces workshop, we asked them to fill out a questionnaire telling what they do on the riverfront and what uses and changes they'd recommend. Of the 50 people who responded,
47% bike there.
59% paddle there.
41% hike, jog, run, or walk there.
8% live near there.
Others said they boat, enjoy the peacefulness and the river, fish, fly kites, picnic, play, relax, ski, visit, volunteer, watch sunsets, work, and worship there.

The common themes were “green, natural, accessible, connected.”

Responses showed that people loved being in Jefferson Davis Park and having the freedom to “play there”, “sit on the riverbank”, “enjoy the peacefulness.” “Don’t change it, just clean it up.” “Keep it natural. Keep it fun!”

Bikers, runners, and walkers asked for connected paths and wanted bike access to Mud Island. Several asked for access to the monorail’s walkway for walkers and bikers year-round.
One idea: install a freight elevator on one of the monorail’s pylons for access to the monorail’s walkway from Jefferson Davis Park. Others emphasized connecting bike and hiking paths throughout the city and suggested a route from V-Line to N. Parkway to the Downtown Riverfront.

“Fix and clean-up the cobblestones.” Paddlers want access to launch their canoes and kayaks in the harbor from the historic cobblestone area. They also suggested a small storage spot and parking on the cobblestones, weekend shuttle service, and more races. “Repair the cobblestones; shore them up at the bottom to prevent gravity pulling down cobblestones, which is a response to the dredging.” “More water access for recreational boating.” “Cleaner harbor.” “Guided canoe trips along the River and its tributaries to raise awareness of our waterfront and varied ecosystems.” “Government support for a green, beautiful, publicly usable waterfront.” “Clean things up and keep it beautiful.” “No more parking lots.”

One person suggested a Fish-Food dispenser in Jefferson Davis Park or on the cobblestones for children to buy handfuls of food for $.50 to feed the fish. Others suggested: more restrooms, a place on the river to sell lunch to boaters, more fishing activity, more regular special events, more use of Mud Island facilities, patio dining at the Visitor’s Center, food vendors, more events like the canoe and kayak race/not commercial development, markers about the history of the river and history of Memphis, Saturday afternoon “Art in the Park” or “Tunes for Free” volunteer concerts, “more nature!! Preservation of natural habitats and the serenity of indigenous trees, plants, animals. The river is a respite from commercialization and development – a place to escape from city-life.”

The emphasis was on beauty and nature, and, over and over, the comments were “more green and public access.”
“Keep it green.” “Protect the Promenade.” “Tear down the fire station, garage, library – now!” “Keep the park for public use; let the builders build elsewhere.” “People and parks over corporate profit, please.”

Maybe the most important thing we heard: “Involve river users in the decision making process.” As the Project for Public Spaces says, if you want a great destination, listen to the people who use and know the space.

Many thanks to Joe Royer and the folks at Outdoors, Inc. who offer us this great event every year and to Sue Williams for these beautiful photographs.