Bentonville wins tourism nod, Fort Smith area misses out

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 122 views 

Nominations from the Fort Smith region did not make the cut, but the City of Bentonville received the Community Tourism Development Award during the Tuesday night (Mar. 5) Henry Awards presentations at the 39th Annual Arkansas Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

The Henry Awards honor Henri de Tonti, the man historians consider to be among the first “Arkansas Travelers.”

Richard Davies, executive director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, was surprised with his induction into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame honor is presented annually to an individual or individuals who have been actively involved in tourism for many years and who have made substantial contributions to the betterment of the industry as a whole.

Bentonville officials collected notice on the Community Development award that goes “annually to an individual or organization which has achieved substantial success in the enhancement of its local resources through imaginative and innovative development efforts.” Also nominated in the category were the Paris Chamber of Commerce and the Sculpture at the River Market in Little Rock.

The Arkansas Master Gardener Program in Little Rock won the Outstanding Volunteer Service Award. Also nominated were Donnie Crain of Jasper and Baridi Nkokheli, the director of the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation who is widely known in the region for his frequent portrayal of legendary U.S. Marshal Bass Reeves. Reeves began his career as a deputy U.S. Marshal during the term of U.S. District Judge Isaac Parker. Reeves was a marshal between 1875 and 1910. Even though he was an African-American and illiterate, he brought in more outlaws from eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas than anyone else.

“This is really icing on the cake, to have been nominated to this level, because I do this for the community,” Nkokheli said in an interview prior to the Tuesday night awards presentation.

The Arkansas Heritage Award was presented to Civil War Helena, Helena-West Helena. Also nominated in the category was the Drennen-Scott Historic Site in Van Buren and the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas.

The Natural State Award was presented to the Great Arkansas Cleanup in Little Rock. The award is presented to a community, organization, special event, or attraction because of its unique appeal, media coverage, creative approach, and/or enhancement of community pride, thus benefiting the state’s quality of life. Also nominated in the category was The Bass Reeves Legacy Monument in Fort Smith and the Rohwer Relocation Center National Historic Landmark.

Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, was disappointed that none of the Fort Smith and Van Buren area nominations were winners. However, he said the region was well represented in terms of overall nominations.

“It sounds very trite, but indeed it is an honor at this stage. … The fact that we had as many finalists at we did makes us very proud of our tourism efforts in our part of the state,” Legris said after the ceremony.

The Media Support Award went to Rex Nelson of North Little Rock. Also nominated in the category were Dick Antoine of Hot Springs and Marilyn Wallis of Harrison.

The Bootstrap Award – presented annually to an individual, organization, or community that has achieved significant success “on a shoestring,” having limited means to work with, either in resources or finances – went to Downtown Walnut Ridge & Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce. Other nominees were the City of Siloam Springs and the Sugarloaf Foundation in Lead Hill.

The Grand Old Classic Special Event Award was captured by MusicFest El Dorado. Other nominees were the Garland County Arts & Crafts Fair, Hot Springs and the Quapaw Quarter (Little Rock) Association Spring Tour of Homes.

The Tourism Special Achievement Award was given to Southland Park Gaming & Racing in West Memphis. Other nominees were Tommie Fleming of Smackover and Christie Graham of Russellville.