The city of Pine Bluff will be spending $382,555 to to build the final section of the Lake Saracen Walking Trail, with 80 percent of that money coming from grants.

This news comes eight years after construction began in 2009. The trail circles Lake Saracen for about five miles. The walking trail project has been split into eight phases.

The trail is a collaboration among the Lake Saracen Project Association, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, the Southeast Arkansas Economic Development District, the city of Pine Bluff, Jefferson County, Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department, the Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning Department and Pine Bluff Economic and Community Development Department.

April Layher, director of the Pine Bluff Parks and Recreation Department, hailed this news as another positive step for Pine Bluff residents. Besides attracting runners and walkers, the trail affords people in wheelchairs access to fishing in the Brump Bayou Wildlife Observation Pier.

“We are very excited about it,” Layher said. “There are a few people who came into our office and walked the entire section even without the [entire] sidewalk in place. It is great for the citizens of Pine Bluff, especially since it is going to be a loop.”

The trail currently ends at Linden Street. The next phase will add sidewalks between Linden Street and the Lake Saracen Splash Park.

The latest funding was approved by the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

Lake Saracen Project Association Chairwoman Joy Blankenship said the city of pine bluff received a total of $306,044 in grants and $76,511 in matching city money to pave this last section.

“It is like hallelujah because it is the final phase of a project that started in 2009,” Blankenship said. “It is a wonderful trail for people to run, bike, and walk. We received $30,000 in grants in 2015 and the city match was $7,500. We received $245,000 in grants in 2016 and the city match was $61,250. We had $31,044 leftover from phases 6A and 6B and the city match was $7,761.08.

Lake Saracen Project Association Treasurer Greg Gustek said the association is currently getting the engineering finished. The project will be advertised and put out to bid.

“We will do it in one phase,” Gustek said. “We will save money by using one construction company.”

Gustek expects to start construction in late spring 2017 or early summer 2017 and finish this year.

“Our walking trails have been a tourism hit especially when you have one going around the lake,” Gustek said. “It is pretty. We advertise walking and biking along the trail. You must walk pets. Have a good time get healthy. Everyone has been nice and cordial. Everyone who I have met along the trail is friendly. The scenery changes from the summer to the winter.”

“We have been very frugal in building this trail,” Gustek said.

Layher noted the Parks and Recreation Department is focused on increasing the health of citizens. The department participates in Growing Healthy Communities to promote healthy eating, exercise, a farmers market, and a community garden.