Getting Down and Dirty at Mud Island River Park
Memphis in May, in its flurry of concerts, barbecue competitions and fireworks, turns all eyes (and ears and taste buds) to the city’s riverfront. This focuses many eyes – Memphis in May has been known to bring 100,000 visitors to town this time each year – on the rust-red monorail track suspended over the river, and prompts just as many questions. Today, I answer them:
1. How do I get on that thing, and where is it taking me? Report to 125 N. Front St. in downtown Memphis to board the monorail (there’s a paid parking lot there, or you can hunt for street parking/garages). A roundtrip ride costs $4 per person regardless of age. But a $10 “museum package” ($7 for kids 5-11; free for the 4-and-under set) gets you a monorail ride and a ticket to hang out on the other side: an island in the middle of the Mississippi.
2. What is there to do on an island in the middle of the Mississippi? Visit Mud Island River Park, home to the Mississippi River Museum and Riverwalk.
The museum’s 18 galleries display 10,000-year-old Mississippi Valley works of pottery, a showboat performer’s costume and a real riverboat steam engine, among many other items.
The Riverwalk is a geography lesson disguised as a splash park, as it replicates the 954-mile flow of the Lower Mississippi from Cairo, Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico on a 30″: 1 mile scale. Slosh about mapped cities and floodways en route to the Gulf of Mexico, where you can rent a pedal boat ($5 per person for 30 minutes; all ages).
Before you go: Check Mud Island River Park’s events calendar, as the site frequently hosts special daytime programs. A Sesquicentennial Civil War weekend, for example, is planned for June 9-10, when you’ll find costumed interpreters in the museum’s Civil War galleries; a Confederate battlefield encampment; talks by area historians; and narrators stationed along the Riverwalk to highlight Civil War-era cities, forts and battles including the June 1862 (naval) Battle of Memphis.
A few notes regarding accessibility, and some freebies: Mud Island River Park is open seasonally (this year through Oct. 31, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily, save Mondays). If you don’t mind missing the monorail, you can drive onto the island via the A.W. Willis Bridge and park for free. Or, take the Skybridge. Running atop the monorail line, it’s free, fine for strollers and ideal for taking in the Mighty Mississippi at your own pace.
3. Can I hang out on the island at night? Sure, if, like me, you agree that a starry sky makes live music sound better and sleep feel sweeter. An amphitheater on Mud Island River Park hosts concerts into the fall – Wilco kicks off the 2012 season on May 19, followed by Funk Fest (June 15-16), James Taylor (July 15), Norah Jones (June 22) and Train (Sept. 12). And Sleep out on the Mississippi events happen monthly beginning July 13: Register in advance and bring a sleeping bag – everything else for your slumber party with Ol’ Man River is provided (including a 12’x12’ tent, dinner, breakfast and a campfire/marshmallow roast).
4. Can I hang out in the Mississippi? As close as you want to without passage aboard a paddleboat or barge, thanks to Mud Island River Park’s Adventure Center. The center rents single and double kayaks ($15 and $20 per hour, respectively) as well as two-person canoes ($20/hour). You’ll paddle around the Mississippi’s Wolf River Harbor, which treats you to all the benefits of navigating the Mississippi (namely, downtown and river views) without the current or traffic. Lifejackets provided; all ages.
What’s your favorite way to hang out on Mud Island? I also want to hear if you’ve made it to any Memphis in May events yet. If not, there’s still plenty to see and do, so get out there! Maybe we’ll run into each other at the World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest later this week?