Trail, parks groups commit $250,000 to connect trails in Fort Smith

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 866 views 

Friends of Recreational Trails (FORT) in partnership with Park Partners of Fort Smith announced a $250,000 commitment to the Maybranch Trail at the Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Commission meeting Wednesday (June 14).

“We think that the Maybranch trail is a big deal and needs to get done. It is the one possible trail that can go through the center of the city and connect parks, schools, and more. It will be a very vital transportation part in this section of town that it goes through,” said Drew Linder with FORT.

The Maybranch Trail will eventually connect the Greg Smith River Trail, an extra-wide, lighted multi-use trail along the Arkansas Riverfront in downtown Fort Smith, to Kelley Park Ballfields at 1821 Old Greenwood Road.

“It’s a big deal because it will connect. When we asked what is important in trails, what we’ve heard is continuous and connective, and this trail will connect,” Linder said.

Phase one of the trail will connect the Greg Smith River Trail to the Martin Luther King Jr. Park at 1815 N. Greenwood Ave., crossing through John Bell Park, 3700 Riverfront Drive, and near the U.S. Marshals Museum, which is set to open to the public in July. Phase two will take the trail from MLK Park to the main branch of the Fort Smith Public Library, 3201 Rogers Ave., and then to Creekmore Park, 3301 S. M St. Phase three will connect Creekmore Park with the Kelley Park Ballfields.

Linder said FORT would reimburse the city for $250,000 of the expense of the trail once construction was complete.

“This is one check I cannot wait to cut,” he said.

Phase one of Maybranch Trail had been estimated to be completed this year, but construction has not yet begun.

In December 2019, the National Park Service announced that Fort Smith would receive a $750,000 Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership program grant to acquire and construct 1.36 miles of the May Branch Railroad Trail. The announcement from the park service said the project will link an underserved area of low and moderate-income neighborhoods around the Martin Luther King Park with the riverfront and downtown business and entertainment district. Project activities will result in safe recreation and commuting opportunities along the new corridor.

Fort Smith is still waiting on those grant funds, Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said at Wednesday’s meeting. Dingman said a legal issue on the easements that will be used to construct the trail is causing the delay. That legal issue has been shifted to the state.

“My impression is that the National Parks Service is deferring to the (Arkansas) Department of Tourism to go through that on the language of the easements to see if it’s sufficient. … I frankly don’t know what the hang up is on it. But my understanding is that is the hurdle and that if the state tourism department signs off on it, the National Park Service will take that and release the funds,” Dingman said. “I have a feeling that it is close.”

He said the city has discussed going ahead with the project, but that would be turning its back on $750,000.

“We can’t do anything with the project unless we abandon the $750,000. Frankly, we’ve waited four years for it, so I keep thinking we’re close and we’ll get awarded it any day.”