Just east of Fort Smith in the municipality of Central City lies the beginning of another opportunity. Admittedly it doesn’t look like much. In fact, if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you would most likely not even notice that this hardly-identifiable regional asset lay quietly dormant there. But on the corner of Butler Street and Highway 255 resides an endpoint to a ready-to-develop asset that will play a role in the promotion of economic development, workforce retention and recruitment, quality of life, and health and wellness throughout five cities and three counties within western Arkansas.
This multi-community shot-of-life begins in Central City and then continues east passing through Lavaca, Charleston, Branch, Caulksville, and ultimately coming to its grand conclusion at the recently constructed Paris-Logan County Coal Miners Memorial in Paris, Arkansas. This vacant rail property traverses thirty five miles of some of the most arresting scenery that River Valley and Western Arkansas have to offer, and it’s waiting on us. Our move.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that this project has already surpassed its infancy stage, this project has been discussed for close to a year now by individuals from every county listed above as well as other interested parties across the state. We have had multiple conversations and preliminary meetings about how our region could obtain the necessary resources to purchase the land and develop it into a beautiful trail, and it’s beginning to take shape and look very promising. This Western Arkansas trail project has acted like a magnet since its primordial introduction and has gained attention and support from the local, regional, and state levels. Many parties are excited about this trail and I’ll tell you why.
This could very well be the missing link that connects Western Arkansas to a greater, developing statewide trail system. With its endpoint in Central City we could ultimately continue west and connect to existing trails within Chaffee Crossing, Barling, Fort Smith, and Van Buren. At its other endpoint in Paris the trail could continue east through London and on to Russellville, as well was continue south to connect with the existing trail systems that Mount Magazine has to offer. The more communities that are on board with this project upfront, the greater level of success we will be able to have.
To get this trail project to undergo the metamorphosis from the “idea” stage to the “development” stage some preliminary steps had to be taken, to be precise there were over 210,000 preliminary steps taken. The average number of steps taken in five miles is around 10,000, meaning the estimated amount of steps it would have taken to walk the entire thirty five mile trail is 70,000 steps. But if there were three people total, that total would be around 210,000 steps. By this point, you have probably been able to read between the lines to understand the purpose for the above arithmetical dance that was just performed; myself and two other altruistic companions walked the entirety of this trail, performing our own land survey to learn about the current condition of this rail corridor. This two day hike was fruitful and inspirational. It allowed me to see the vision of what a completed trail could look like and to be able to correlate that vision to also comprehend the level of economic impact that this trail would have for so many communities. But we didn’t stop there.
After we walked the property to perform the initial land survey to get an idea of its current condition, another selfless patron was able to secure the services of a drone and work with me to obtain high definition aerial footage of the rail corridor. We have also had local support pledged from an engineering firm that will provide us with even more valuable data about this trail, and the list of supporters goes on and on.
Now to get to the reason for this piece. We have been fortunate enough to get many interested parties on board thus far and help us perform many amazingly beneficial preliminary tasks, and we couldn’t have been luckier. But in order to bring this data to life, in order to take the notes from our own amateur land exploration survey, our semi-professional drone fly-over footage, and the information that we will gain from our professional engineering firm, we need community support. We need community committees formed in Fort Smith, Central City, Lavaca, Charleston, Branch, Caulksville, and Paris. We need participants from Van Buren who want to see this trail tie into their area, we need participants from Mount Magazine that can help us plan the best approach to tying this trail into their existing trails, and we need participation from people in our region who are willing to take action to help bring this dormant diamond-in-the-rough to prominence.
If you’re in one of the communities I’ve listed, or perhaps you’re just interested in supporting this venture, I’d be excited to talk with you more about how you could help.