Fort Smith Parks Commission recommends no smoking or tobacco use for all city parks and facilities

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 367 views 

The Fort Smith Parks Commission has recommended a resolution that would authorize Mayor Sandy Sanders to institute a no smoking or tobacco use policy for city owned and operated recreational parks and facilities.

The unanimous vote was handed down at Wednesday’s (Feb. 8) monthly meeting at the Creekmore Community Center.

Commissioners said they had received “hundreds” of comments on social media from Fort Smith residents, who were in support and opposition. None of the opposed spoke on the issue at Wednesday’s meeting, but David Nichols and Ed Barnes, caretakers of Carol Ann Cross Park, thanked the Commission for its vote, with Nichols noting that “70% of what we pick up over there (at Carol Ann Cross) are cigarette butts, so this will really help.”

Commission Chair Casey Millspaugh said it was time to “phase out” smoking and tobacco from the city’s parks, observing that restaurants and sports facilities have already done so.

“This is a place where kids come to play, so why the hell do we need smoking? You can last two hours without a cigarette,” he said.

Commissioner Sherry Toliver acknowledged smoking “in my 20s and 30s,” but said she eventually quit and that the new resolution, if passed by the Fort Smith Board of Directors, “will be an encouragement to people to give up the habit.” One stipulation of the commission’s ordinance that would allow smoking and tobacco would be for groups renting out facilities, provided they do cleanup with adequate receptacles.

Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert, in justifying the resolution, said it’s “really no different from what other municipalities and even some companies and businesses are doing.” The ban will apply to smoking and chewing tobaccos as well as eCigarettes (aka “vaping”).

Also Wednesday, Reinert and Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman updated the commission on Tuesday night’s (Feb. 7) termination of the River Valley Sports Complex. Commissioners had questions for Reinert and Dingman, who acknowledged it was “too early in the process” to tell what comes next. The Parks Department will work to secure and protect the $1 million in land enhancements that have been performed so far, but funding for ongoing operations does not exist. Dingman said all he could say about the future at this point is that “we’re exploring all of our options.”

Original RVSC organizers Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, and Fort Smith businessman Lee Webb – also a member of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) – had intended to use private donations, in-kind services, and a $1.6 million draw from the city to complete the complex’s softball fields and facilities, but continually missed deadlines and were only able to work through $1 million of the city’s draw schedule over a three-year period.

However, Reinert was not willing to write off the idea of utilizing in-kind services for the project, pointing to Martin Luther King, Jr., Park as an example of a successful recent project which benefitted from such an arrangement.