Food trucks, softball fields and new ‘artisan’ farmer’s market part of Fort Smith Parks and Rec group meeting

by Aric Mitchell ( 130 views 

The Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission met Wednesday (July 13) from the Creekmore Park Community Center to discuss naming options for the Northside High School (NHS) softball fields at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, food trucks, and a nighttime farmer’s market.

Commissioners launched Wednesday’s two-hour meeting by settling on Grizzly Field as the name of the new softball field at MLK following several minutes of debate over whether to name the field after Lawrence “Buzz” Wood, Sr., and Jr., who were influential personalities in Fort Smith’s African-American community throughout much of the 20th and 21st Centuries, acting as mentors to black youths while being avid supporters of NHS.

Ultimately, with the blessing of Wood Jr.’s wife of 46 years, Dewilla, it was decided to name the press box for the new facility after her husband and his father instead of the field itself.

Private donors, all of whom were NHS alumni, contributed in excess of $200,000 of their own money to the field – the city contributed $150,000 – to deliver something NHS alumni spokesperson Mike Blaylock claimed was a “half-million dollar facility.” The group felt – given all the individuals involved in the donating of money – it was only fitting to keep the field name “Grizzly Field” and name something else in the complex after the two Buzzes.

The Parks Commission agreed, opting for the amended name change after previously voting to call it Buzz Wood-Grizzly Field before sending it out for public comment. The decision will now go before the Fort Smith Board of Directors for final approval.

Also Wednesday, the River Valley Artisan Market won a recommendation from the Commission to proceed with a farmer’s market-styled marketplace in Creekmore Park during afternoon and evening hours.

The Commission voted unanimously (6-0) to recommend the market idea to the Fort Smith Board of Directors for final approval. A project offering spearheaded by the Fort Smith Art and Regional Market Society (FARMS), the market would be open to the public on the first and third Thursdays of each month from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Vendors would need to arrive at 3:30 p.m. to start setting up. It would be the vendor’s responsibility to clean up their area – something FARMS estimates would take an additional hour, putting exit time for vendors at around 11 p.m.

Addressing cleanup concerns, FARMS co-founder Michelle Weldon said many vendors, who have signed up are “senior vendors,” who know the requirements and will help young vendors as they adjust to a new concept. Weldon said enthusiasm for the idea is high, claiming the FARMS Facebook page landed over 300 likes just three days after launching – a number up to 420 on Wednesday afternoon while attracting more than 50 emails of support and numerous vendor commitments from food truck businesses, local artists, bands, performance artists, and urban farmers among others. The group has set a tentative opening date of Aug. 4, 2016, pending Board of Directors approval.

“There’s a need for this,” Weldon said, adding that she and fellow co-founder Elizabeth James have “lived all over” as artists and have noticed the Fort Smith region has “a lot of talent.”

James said they want the River Valley Artisan Market to be “a place for families and fun and learning,” adding that vendors who have reached out include yoga instructors, beekeepers, hula-hoopers and even the Sebastian County Humane Society, which, James said, verbally committed to doing sponsored dog walks with “adopt me” shirts should the ongoing marketplace get off the ground.

Inspiration for the River Valley Artisan Market came partly from a similar marketplace that opens in Ozark once a month, the pair said.

The area around downtown’s Cisterna Park where the General Darby Statue now resides has seen significant activity over the last few months. In addition to the statue’s unveiling, the Fort Smith Board of Directors recently opened up the space to a maximum of six food trucks and approved daytime hours.

Now the Parks Commission is hoping to go one step further and convert the so-called “mini-Towson Avenue” into a “walkable area/hybrid park” based on a suggestion from commissioner Casey Millspaugh, who sees it as an opportunity to create more foot traffic and business opportunities for mobile vendors.

Millspaugh’s suggestion won approval from the Parks Commission 5-1 and will next head to City Directors for discussion and a possible vote.

While Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman warned that the area is in a public right-of-way making the possibility for a full street closure complex, he was encouraged by existing efforts to make the downtown Fort Smith area “more walkable.” Dingman said there are between 25 and 30 permits issued to food truck vendors throughout the city.