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Greg Smith River Walk attracting feet even before its grand opening

Greg Smith River Walk attracting feet even before its grand opening
Aerial photo of the pedestrian bridge over May Branch on the Greg Smith River Walk by  J.P. Bell

Greg Smith River Walk Attracting Feet
Even Before Its Official Opening

In the same trail-blazing spirit of Greg Smith, walkers, runners and bikers are out on the new riverfront trail named for the long-time trails volunteer, even before its official completion and opening ceremonies.

Completion of the 1.6-mile riverfront trail segment has required the perseverance of municipal government, non-profit Parks Partners and the fundraising group Friends of Recreational Trails, through obstacles such as funding shortages, flooding and construction disputes. But those difficulties can soon be forgotten by anyone who starts down the 12-foot-wide paved trail that begins at the River Park Events building and strolls along the banks of the Arkansas.

With its long line of attractive lighting, the trail itself creates a new and beautiful vista as cars approach Fort Smith over the J. Fred Patton Bridge at night. The lights reflect into the Arkansas River, tracing its edge.

Features on the trail
Along the trail are occasional benches and shaded shelters inviting walkers to pause and enjoy the view. Even though the downtown skyline and traffic along Clayton Expressway are visible from the trail, the urban landscape fades away as walkers look toward the river. The trail passes the site of the future U.S. Marshals Museum. The wide walkway can accommodate cyclers and families pushing young children in strollers.

Runners can easily maneuver around slower traffic without breaking stride. A much wider swath is cleared of growth on either side of trail providing excellent visibility and safety.

Near the end of this trail’s segment, May Branch empties into the Arkansas and the trail has its biggest focal point – a bridge that is certain to become a favorite location for photographers, marriage proposals and enthusiastic rock-dropping by children. Stone steps descend to a fishing area. Across the bridge is a shade shelter with seating.

Shortly beyond May Branch is the end of the trail portion named for Greg Smith, the late, long-time trails volunteer and advocate. But the riverside route continues on the existing Rice-Carden Trail another 2.5 miles to connect with Fort Smith Park. Paving of that trail achieves a “continuous and connected” trailway envisioned by all the supporters of trails.

“With that connection we’ll have 5-6 miles of trails with parking lots at both ends plus a parking area in the middle. That becomes kind of a destination trail,”?said Drew Linder, chairman of the Trails and Greenways Committee. With its close proximity to downtown, trail users are conveniently close to a meal or a beverage in local establishments, he said.

Trail believers voting with corporate contributions
More than $1 million had been collected by early 2016 by Friends of Recreational Trails to supplement the city’s trails budget and the effort continues. Fundraising was a response to a 2015 election in which a measure to divert a percentage of the 1 percent street tax to trail development was defeated by a narrow margin. Business contributions make up $870,000 of that amount along with proceeds of both Fort Smith Marathons and a state grant.

Contributers include Armstrong Bank, Arvest Bank, BHC Insurance, Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas, Richard and Jaunice Griffin, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, Hanna Oil & Gas, Littlefield Oil, Mercy Health, Propak Logistics, Sparks Health System, Walther Arms and Weldon, Williams & Lick, and a $3 million, interest-free loan from First National Bank of Fort Smith.

This article appears in the May 2016 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine, Online