Fort Smith Parks Department updates on grant money, introduces new recreation programmer

by Aric Mitchell (amitchell@talkbusiness.net) 69 views 

Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert will make a play for a $250,000 grant from the Arkansas Department of Tourism to help develop the 51 acres at Riverfront Drive which have been set aside for the expansion of city soccer fields.

At Wednesday’s (Oct. 12) meeting of the Parks Commission, Reinert said his “sales pitch” in Little Rock on Oct. 29 would focus on selling the importance of recreational activities to a city’s economic development.

“Not only is recreation important to any community, but it’s part of the draw to get people here,” Reinert said in comments to Talk Business & Politics after the meeting. “In the case of the 51 acres, we have a big need for soccer. Initially the space was going to be used for softball, but we found out there is a bigger need for soccer. We have an enormous amount of teams in the city, and that’s what is driving this train. There is interest in adding soccer tournaments and those can generate interest from other communities and hopefully lead to some economic development.”

Reinert continued: “I’ve been told that green space, parks and recreation and leisure activities are not really a spoke in the wheel of economic development, but I have to disagree with that. I think it’s important in not only drawing people here, but also in having something fun to do so that people who come here to work want to stay and live here because there is always something going on.”

Pending approval of the grant, the money would be used for construction and grading of two initial soccer fields and a small parking lot. Reinert said it’s possible the Arkansas Department of Tourism could approve at a lower amount, but that “(the $250,000) is what we’re going for.”

In other grant news, Reinert said the parks department had received a $5,000 grant for the recently approved “Hammock Hangout” discussed at the August meeting.

The city will begin working with a local troop of the Girl Scouts of America and OG&E to install hammock hangouts in several of the city’s parks over the next few months. Scouts member Anna Claire Tilley presented the initial plan to the Parks Commission on Aug. 10, citing a $335.97 cost to organize one hangout with the ultimate goal of installation in each of the city’s 23 parks. Using Tilley’s quote, the grant should be enough to cover about 15 locations.

Also Wednesday, the parks department welcomed DeVeta Webb as its new recreation programmer. Webb started her duties for the city earlier this month and appeared at the Parks Commission meeting. Webb is originally from Florida, but as part of a military family — her husband is a U.S. Army veteran — she has spent time in Houston, Dallas, and Colorado Springs as well as both coasts of the Sunshine State.

When asked to assess the situation of the city’s recreation programming, Webb said she was enthusiastic about the city’s Movies in the Park push as well as the upcoming Father-Daughter Dance at the Fort Smith Convention Center on Feb. 11, and said she is already looking at adding a Mother-Daughter type of event to follow suit.

“I’ll be getting a schedule together, probably within the next six weeks,” Webb said, adding that she would be placing a focus on family events.

Webb plans to scout different areas of the city in the next few weeks to “figure out the different demographics, the age groups, who likes to play soccer where, that sort of thing — so when I do things it will be based on that area, and I’ll be looking to program something for each of our parks, and hopefully use the neighborhood parks as well.”

Lastly, prior to Wednesday’s meeting, the Parks Commission planted an oak tree at Creekmore to honor Bill Bob Williams, a longtime member of the commission who died on Sept. 11 at age 83 of natural causes.

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