Unique ropes course, climbing park possible for downtown Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 1,038 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors discussed Tuesday (June 11) the purchase of property near the river to be used for a ropes course and climbing obstacles park. If the directors approve the deal at the June 18 regular meeting, Fort Smith would purchase 2.36 acres of property adjacent to the city’s new Riverfront Drive Skate and Bike Park from the U.S. Marshals Museum for $160,000.

The property would be “used for a ropes course, climbing obstacles, and other similar activities that would complement the Bike/Skate Park and the Greg Smith River Trail, continuing the development of the entire River Park area,” states a memo from Jeff Dingman, deputy city administrator, to City Administrator Carl Geffken.

The museum considers the property surplus to their project and has agreed to sell it to the city, the memo said. The property was valued at $850,000 when the city had it appraised prior to purchasing the initial tract for the Skate and Bike Park, which opened in July 2018, Geffken said.

In early 2018, the city approved a $600,000 contract to be paid through private funds with American Ramp Company for construction of the Skate and Bike Park and its contents. The park is part of a public-private partnership with various private interests that include but aren’t limited to Steve Clark of Propak Logistics, Sam Sicard of First National Bank of Fort Smith, and Bill Hanna of Hanna Oil & Gas. An undisclosed portion of the contract amount also comes from the Walton Family Foundation. Sicard — through FNB — was the initial contributor and the only one to disclose the amount ($100,000, made public on Oct. 13, 2017).

At the same time, city also approved a contract for its share of the park with Silco Construction in the amount of $466,511. That money went toward construction of the parking area and amenities improvements. The funds were paid out of the voter-approved 1/8-cent sales and use tax. American Ramp’s design is based on their work at K-Town Plaza in Kanab, Utah. The park features a small track for strider bikes and children still on training wheels along with intermediate and advanced tracks for teens and experienced riders.

The new park will include an advanced jump track for experienced riders, a rope course and boulder-like climbing obstacles. Along with purchasing the land, the city would be responsible for needed infrastructure such as sidewalks and lights to connect the new park to the Bike/Skate park, the memo said. This funding would come from the Parks Capital Improvement Fund.

“Basically it’s a shell game. We would shift money around,” said Doug Reinert, director of parks and recreation.

Some of the money would come from needed but not urgent projects that can be delayed for a couple of years, like resurfacing the top portion of the tennis courts at Creekmore Park, which Reinert said were looking good after being repainted. Other funds would come from some monies that were set aside for the trail system.

“The trail system is a multiyear project. There are areas we don’t have to do, like the northeast portion. The May Branch trails and Chaffee Crossing trails would not be affected,” Reinert said.

The public amenities placed at the site would be funded by private dollars, making the project a private-public partnership like the Bike/Skate Park, Geffken said. Private interests already have secured pledges for at least $500,000 to fund the public amenities that would be placed at the site, the memo said. The estimated cost to fund the public amenities is $1.3 million, said Bobby Aldridge of Frontier Engineering, who was the lead engineer on the skate park. All details of what will be included in the park and how it will operate have not been decided, he said.

The boulder like climbing obstacles would be around eight to 10 feet and would only require the same type of safety surface — soft padding or mulch — required for typical playground equipment, Aldridge said. The tall climbing wall would require training and certification and the proper equipment, Aldridge said, noting it and the ropes course would require manned operation.

“The details have not been worked out. We do not know if this something the city would want to operate or if they would want to contract it out privately. The parks department might want, instead of it being the city’s responsibility, to have a private entity operate it. The key now is to secure the land to expand the park,” he said.

For safety reasons, the ropes course area would need to be fenced to keep people from attempting it when the area is closed, Aldridge said.

“There is a lot to still be determined. There are only two ropes courses like this in public parks in the country,” Aldridge said. “The bottom line is this 2.36 acres for boulder climbing, an advanced jump track and ropes, and it will be built with 100% private money.

“It will make this park double what it is. It will make it a tourist destination,” he added.

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