Trails group seeks to convert Acme quarry into park

Fort Smith City  offices are shown in this file photo.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo/David Gottschalk)
Fort Smith City offices are shown in this file photo. (NWA Democrat-Gazette file photo/David Gottschalk)

FORT SMITH — The city’s Parks Commission unanimously agreed to endorse a plan to turn the historic Acme Brick Quarry on Old Greenwood Road into a multi-use park.

The Friends of Recreational Trails presented the idea to the commission at its monthly meeting Wednesday. The group next hopes to present the plan to the city’s Board of Directors, who would have to fund the project.

The Brick Yard Park concept is to have the western side be for various difficulties of mountain biking trails, with multiuse trails around the park’s perimeter, a water detention pond on the east side to reduce flooding in the city caused by May Branch Creek and a bridge called “The Conveyor” to connect the west and east parcels similarly to the conveyor belt that transferred materials from the quarry to the kiln across Old Greenwood Road.

The former quarry parcel is 63 acres and would cost roughly $1.4 million. The two eastern parcels cost roughly $1.8 million, for a total of $3.2 million if all three parcels are purchased, according to the trail group.

“Our original thought was the city may not want to buy into this unless they’re going to get a detention pond, so we thought that was a pretty important piece to it,” said Sam Hanna, a member of the Friends of Recreational Trails and property manager for KMW Properties. “But I think we can make the case that each side is just as important as the other. It’s a nice addition with your commercial potential, on the side of personal residential development potential.”

Michael Mings, a member of the Friends of Recreational Trails and mobility coordinator for the city of Fort Smith, said the group hopes to create a master plan that would include public input on other amenities to have at the park. He noted building the Brick Yard Park would create a row of parks in the area, with Creekmore Park to the north and the Kelley Park Ballfields to the south.

“This could really be a lifestyle for people,” Mings said. “I’m so used to seeing bike riders move up to Northwest Arkansas for trails or amenities like this because they’re looking for fun things to do.”

The presentation says the park could also have a community impact of bridging socioeconomic and racial divides in the area by building a shared communal space between Northside and South-side high schools, Ramsey and Darby middle schools, and the Ward 1 and Ward 4 boundaries.

Funding could come from the city’s Parks and Recreation Capital Improvements Tax; the city’s Capital Improvements Tax for Streets, Drainage, and Bridges; and the city’s general fund grants.

Grant possibilities include the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program; the Outdoor Recreation Matching Grant from the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism; the Transportation Alternatives Program from the Arkansas Department of Transportation; and the Recreational Trails Program from the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Parks Commission member Chris Raible asked if the Parks Department could maintain the Brick Yard Park in addition to all the other parks in the city.

“We definitely are growing, and as things like this grow, then we are definitely going to need to add staff. There’s just no way around it,” Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert replied.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to see the youth and the energy and the smarts involved in this,” Parks Commission member John McIntosh said. “I think this is as big, if not bigger, than the development of the Riverfront, and I hope to hell you don’t take 25 years to do it. So be about it.”

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