LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former President Bill Clinton said Friday that a $10.5 million pedestrian walkway converted from an old railroad bridge at his library is important because it represents a contrast to the divisions and partisanship that Americans see in politics today.
Clinton joined his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, and daughter, Chelsea, in Little Rock to dedicate the Clinton Presidential Park Bridge and William E. "Bill" Clark Presidential Park Wetlands Dedication. The ceremony kicked off a weekend of events to mark the 20th anniversary of Clinton's 1991 announcement that he would run for president.
"Bridges bring things together," Clinton said to a crowd of about 1,750 gathered outside his presidential library. "The biggest problem we've got today in America is that conflict and driving people apart is both good politics and exciting media."
The 2,653-foot walkway is converted from an 1899 railroad bridge and crosses the Arkansas River. It opened briefly to the public after Friday's dedication ceremony, but officially opens on Sunday. Immediately after the dedication, a steady stream of cyclists crossed the bridge that connects Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The wetlands are named after the chairman and chief executive officer of CDI Contractors, which built Clinton's presidential library. The library, which opened in 2004, is located in what was once an area of dilapidated buildings in downtown Little Rock.
"It connects our past to our present," Clinton said. "It connects because of the preserve, here our reverence for nature with our support for the advancement of civilization."
The Clintons also are expected to mark the former president's 1991 announcement with a ceremony Saturday at the Old Statehouse Museum, where he launched his presidential campaign. Many of his closest friends and advisers are in town for the reunion.
Clinton lives in New York, but remains a major presence in his native state. Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe said he believed the events offered a chance for his supporters to reunite but also was a reminder of the work during his presidency.
"I think it's a nostalgia for a time when leadership existed to bring people together," Beebe said.
Although the then-governor went on to win two terms in the White House, Clinton joked that some of his supporters in Arkansas weren't so sure about his odds.
"I think only my mother was certain I would win," Clinton said. "Hillary and Chelsea were positively undecided. Everybody else thought it was a fool's errand, but thought it would be nice to see what New Hampshire is like in the winter."
Andrew DeMillo can be reached at www.twitter.com/ademillo