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Momentum: Three downtown projects are rolling

Momentum: Three downtown projects are rolling

Downtown projects gain momentum: a skate/bike park, Marshals Museum progress and a Judge Parker statue

Whether on two wheels or on skateboards, riders will soon roll into a fun, adventurous cycle/skate park on the downtown riverfront.

A group of familiar benefactors, led by Sam Sicard of First National Bank, last month announced their intention to help the city open a skateboard and cycling park in 2018.

Along with fellow philanthropists Steve Clark of Propak Logistics, Inc. and Bill Hanna of Hanna Oil & Gas, Sicard said the goal is to open the park by Memorial Day.

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Several kinds of courses will make up the park, still being designed by Bobby Aldridge of Frontier Engineering, Inc. The group has picked the best ideas from similar parks nationwide.

Skaters and bikers will be able to use a classic skatepark course in the park, for challenging riding in bowls, half-pipes and other features.

A “pump track,”  a cycle course with lots of moguls and grade changes, will condition mountain bike riders to “pump”?their weight and propel the bike without pedaling.

For smaller kids who ride strider bikes or use training wheels, there’s a children’s track with interesting features that is more their speed.

The bike/skate park site is adjacent to the existing Riverfront Events Building parking lot on the area that was originally designated for the U.S. Marshals Museum, which has been moved to a different site only a few thousand yards further down Riverfront Drive. The new paved and lighted Greg Smith Riverfront Trail hugs the edge of the river and runs along both sites.

These activist donors, First National Bank, Hanna and Clark and others, are repeating the same public/private funding partnership with the City of Fort Smith that is being used to push forward a local, continuous trail system. 

They want the park to be completed quickly – they’re ready to ride! 

Mark your calendars, say the U.S. Marshals Museum backers – the long-awaited museum will open on 9/24/2019. 

The fictional deputy U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn popularized the word “grit” but in real life, everyone who has stuck to the tough goal of establishing a U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith has been showing true tenacity that now is showing results.

The earth, tons of it, has been moving since last month on the banks of the Arkansas River. The dirtwork is to level the grade and stabilize an earthen pad in readiness for a  construction start in early spring, according to Patrick Weeks, president and CEO of the U.S. Marshals Museum.

The star-shaped, 53,000-square-foot museum building was designed to be a sriking landmark, visible from the bridge over the Arkansas River, with one of the star’s points stretching towards Oklahoma, the historical Indian Territory jurisdiction where the greatest number of deputy U.S. Marshals died in the line of duty.

It will become a companion to the Fort Smith Historic Site, which has preserved the courthouse where the deputy marshals brought suspects to to be tried in federal court.

Citizens of Fort Smith and this surrounding two-state region, many proud descendants of those tough and capable deputies, have been the most active, generous and loyal supporters of the proposed museum. The convoy of dump trucks and bulldozers are a welcome sight.

Starting with the family of Robert Westphal, which donated the riverfront acreage for the museum, local donors been the most generous givers to the project. The museum will tell the rich history of the perilous work of Marshals Service lawmen who served here, but also include the entire scope and ongoing work of the federal law enforcement agency founded with the nation’s federal judicial system, in 1789. 

Weeks said the opening date of Sept. 24, 2019 was chosen because it is the 230th anniversary of the service’s creation by Congress in the Judiciary Act of 1789.


Garrison Avenue’s Bass Reeves and William O. Darby statues will be joined by another historic figure, Judge Isaac C. Parker 

Another consortium of Fort Smith folks with a track record of proposing and completing high-visibility projects recently went public with plans to upgrade a “gateway”into downtown Fort Smith and to place, in a new park, a larger-than life-sized bronze statue of Judge Isaac C. Parker, (1838-1896). 

The statue will stand on the spearhead of land where Rogers and Garrison Avenues meet, to be named Gateway Park. Two blocks at the triangle-shaped “point” will be joined by closing a short section of North 13th Street.

Bancorp South has agreed to donate the larger portion of land, now called Harwood Park, to create Gateway Park. Current owners of the “point” portion, Richard and Rick Griffin, will also donate their property.

The team behind the park is the non-profit organization 64.6 Downtown, which will own the park as it is created, then convey ownership to the City of Fort Smith.

Rick Griffin, a leader in 64.6 Downtown, estimated it will be a three-year project.

Studio 6 Architects, Inc. will donate design services. Funds to create the statue will come from donations from the public – citizens, businesses and organizations, as was the case for the Reeves and Darby statues.

Jim Spears, retired 12th Circuit District judge, is a member of 64.6 Downtown who was a leader in the Reeves statue project. He has suggested the same sculptor, Harold T. Holden.

Parker’s depiction has yet to be determined, Spears said, but he is in favor of a standing figure of the judge with a couple of children. This idea is based on historical anecdotes that Parker carried candy in his pockets for children, Spears said. Besides his 21 years on the bench of the Federal Court for the Western District of Arkansas, Parker was an influential citizen concerned with improving the education and civic life of the people of Fort Smith. The park will also have a plaza with flagpoles for the U.S., Arkansas and Fort Smith flags, he said.

This article appears in the November 2017 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.

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