When I think of a place to do business and what that place might look like, I think of Greenville, South Carolina. It’s a city with a highly popular trail system for walking and bike riding.
Closer to home is Fayetteville, with over 80 miles of trail network connecting cities and businesses throughout Northwest Arkansas. These trail systems play an integral part in the lifestyle and culture of cities. And they are part of a much bigger amenity for area residents.
In both cities, these trail systems add value to local commerce by providing an amenity that is attractive to professionals looking to relocate to their areas. Funded by the Walmart Foundation (NWA) and other large community partners, the trails also offer a healthy lifestyle. They encourage families and individuals to engage in outdoor activities. By their very existence, they encourage a healthier lifestyle and culture within the community.
Local trails plans
Fort Smith is poised to develop a beautiful trail system with the help of a citizen-led 1/8th cent sales tax. The community is in the process of implementing a network of some 35 miles of trails. Plans are to circle the city with sharrows, or shared-lane markers, that serve as trail connectors.
The city’s widely supported parks tax allows our park system to develop amenities that include parks, trails, and play grounds. The total estimated cost of the trails project is $11.2 million, C o m m u n i t y with $3 million coming from the parks tax and $3 million coming from the corporate community. There is still some fund raising needed but the expectation is that additional funding dollars will flow in as development and usage occurs.
Led by Dianne Morrison of Western Arkansas Planning and Development, the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is in the process of developing a regional trails plan. The ultimate goal is to connect all the cities in our region: Fort Smith to Greenwood, Fort Smith to Van Buren, Van Buren to Alma, and more. Once our region has an adopted trails plan, the state will take these trails into consideration and they will become part of the development of future roads and bridges.
Fort Smith and the MPO are not the only ones in the River Valley working towards trails and bikeways. Van Buren has been very active in working toward implementing a trails plan. People at the local bike shop Phat Tire say that Van Buren has some world class mountain bike trails—they just need a little touch up. Van Buren is strategically positioned to attract cyclists and mountain bikers alike. Coupled with a regional trails plan and access to Fort Smith trails, Van Buren is a likely place for a busy bike shop.
Businesses get involved
It is important for business owners to support the development of the trail systems and to support the current 1/8th cent sales tax. The trails, along with the parks created along the trails, bring value to our community. They help attract young talent and families to the area.
Statistically, trails are proven to increase property values. Real estate developers are quite willing to pay for trail developments that come through their subdivisions. Not only do trails attract and accommodate the millennials, but they provide a safe place for children to run and play.
As the trails system is completed, hundreds of families and health enthusiasts are expected to be using them. Trails represent opportunities for new businesses and expansion of the area’s economic base. Money spent on our parks and trails system can create healthier communities, not only for today’s families, but for generations to come.
by Casey Millspaugh
Images by Fort Smith Parks Department