Recreational Projects Underway in NWA

The past few months have posed excitement for people in Northwest Arkansas, as a number of new recreational projects have been announced.

One of these projects is an expansion to the already popular Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. According to the museum’s website, “the expansion will allow the museum to showcase its growing collection and welcome more visitors to experience the power of art, in an inclusive environment.”

The project will see the 200,000 square foot building grow by almost 100,000 square feet. According to the museum, the project was “envisioned to support Crystal Bridges’ commitment to free access to art for all, the new space will increase capacity for presenting art and exhibitions, educational and outreach initiatives, cultural programming, and community events.”

Another new project is a kayak park in Siloam Springs. The city recently announced that “The Grand River Dam Authority and the City of Siloam Springs, Arkansas are collaborating to bring a new, national-caliber whitewater adventure park to the Upper Illinois River in the Ozark Mountains.”

Funding for design and construction of the park comes from the generous donation of the Walton Family Foundation. The park, deemed the WOKA Whitewater Park, promises “heart-pumping wave action for kayakers, surfers and tubers of all skill levels,” on its website. It continues, “Relax and enjoy the serene beauty of nature on a stand-up paddleboard or watch the action from the waterfront spectator seating. Currently under construction in Oklahoma near the Arkansas border, WOKA will be a best-in-class whitewater park featuring a 1,200-foot long, 100-foot wide side channel off the Illinois River with eight drop-features for an unforgettable experience.”

The third big project coming to NWA is Railyard Park, another recreation venture supported by the Walton Family Foundation. The city of Rogers has begun work on designing a new downtown park that will “enhance economic development, spur placemaking, and improve connectivity.”

Sitting on the east boundary of Rogers’ historic downtown district in what is now Frisco Park, the new area has the potential to make use of recent public space investments and help to make Rogers a special destination in the NWA area.

While this growth is exciting, it certainly isn’t unprecedented; the Northwest Arkansas region continues to be one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Northwest Arkansas was the 13th fastest-growing metro area in the United States between 2010 and 2019 and the 24th fastest growing metro from 2018 to 2019, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Among U.S. counties with at least 20,000 people, Benton County was the 40th fastest growing county between 2010 and 2019 and the 73rd fastest-growing county from 2018 to 2019.

“Northwest Arkansas is just booming in population and economic growth,” said Michael Pakko in an interview with TBP, a news website that covers business and politics in Arkansas. Pakko is the chief economist and state economic forecaster for the Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. “That’s part of the makeup of the state’s economy. That’s where we are seeing a large share of the growth in the economy and the population.”

All of these projects promise a lot for the John Brown University community, which has been suffering from burnout and, quite simply, boredom.

Jerica Barkley, freshman intercultural studies major, is one of many who feels the new additions could be refreshing for the community. “It’s so exciting to hear about these recreational developments. Especially as a freshman … that means I have longer to enjoy them.”

She continues, “At the same time, as a freshman who by the end of this year will have completed two semesters without breaks, I really understand the importance of recreation and community, even if it’s just on weekends. Even a single hike away from campus makes a huge difference in refreshing my mind and preparing me for the next week. So, as a student, I simply love hearing about all the opportunities available for rest and refreshment.”

Read the full article on the Threefold Advocate website here.