‘True Grit Trail’ to connect Dardanelle and Fort Smith

by Talk Business & Politics staff ([email protected]) 2,549 views 

Jeff Bridges as U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn in the 2010 movie remake of "True Grit."

Arkansas Highway 22 between Dardanelle and Fort Smith should soon be designated the “True Grit Trail” in recognition of the famous novel by Arkansas author Charles Portis and the two movies based on the novel.

Legislation approved by the Arkansas House and Senate now awaits a signature by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

House Bill 1628, carried in the House by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, and in the Senate by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, was approved March 6 in the House by a 94-0 vote and on Tuesday (March 12) in the Senate with a 35-0 vote.

“The popularity of the tale and the attention it brings to the state make a compelling case for renaming the portion of Arkansas Highway 22 between Dardanelle and Fort Smith the ‘True Grit Trail,’” noted language in the bill. “The Arkansas Department of Transportation shall erect appropriate signs along Arkansas Highway 22 between Dardanelle, Arkansas, and Fort Smith, Arkansas, designating the route as the ‘True Grit Trail.’”

Portis’ novel “True Grit” first hit the big screen with John Wayne playing the part of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn and Arkansas native Glen Campbell in the role of La Boeuf. A remake hit theaters in 2010 with Jeff Bridges as Cogburn and Matt Damon as La Boeuf.

Wearing a John Wayne-like eye patch, Stubblefield on Tuesday cajoled his Senate colleagues to approve a bill to allow the state to designate the stretch of road after the famous novel and movies. Introduced as Sen. (Rooster) Cogburn by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who presides over the Arkansas Senate, Stubblefield said HB 1628 would rename a stretch of road along State Highway 22 from Dardanelle to the planned U.S. Marshals Museum in downtown Fort Smith in honor of the famous Hollywood movie. Wayne won his only Academy Award for his performance in the 1969 film.

“Should this bill pass, and it should, John Wayne’s grandson will come down to the governor’s office for the signing,” said Stubblefield, adding jokingly that “Glen Campbell won’t be there.”

After Tuesday’s vote in the Senate, the bill was transmitted to the governor’s office where it is expected to be signed into law. There was no financial analysis on possible costs for renaming part of Highway 22, but Stubblefield said it would benefit the region’s tourism industry.

“There is a lot of interest in the [Fort Smith] area now that we have the museum,” Stubblefield told Talk Business & Politics.

However, an effort to fully fund the museum and make possible a September 2019 opening was rejected Tuesday by Fort Smith voters. The Sebastian County Clerk’s office showed that 6,726 voted against a one-cent, nine-month sales tax increase and 3,670 voted for it. The 10,408 total votes were 22% of registered voters.

Danny Straessle, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT), told Talk Business & Politics the agency does not have an estimate of what it might cost to develop, produce and install the signage. There is no timeframe set for installation of the signage. Also, if ArDOT does not have funds for the signage, the legislation said the agency can seek private donations, grants, money from county and city street departments and other sources.

Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the bureau might be financially supportive of some of the cost, if necessary.

“I think it’s a natural. … It’s a wonderful idea, but I would just like to know a whole lot more detail about it,” Legris said, adding that any funding support would ultimately be a decision of the Fort Smith Advertising & Promotion Commission.