Walnut Ridge: Music Lovers Targeted in Efforts To Revive City's Downtown

by Kate Knable  on Monday, Aug. 22, 2011 12:00 am  

 Instigators said it began in 2009 as brainstorming for touristy ways for Walnut Ridge to celebrate Gov. Mike Beebe’s designation of U.S. Highway 67 in Jackson, Lawrence and Randolph counties as “Rock ‘N’ Roll Highway 67.”

Ideas were tossed around in Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce tourism committee meetings in the town of Walnut Ridge, population 4,890.  

Eventually, the seven-member committee decided on two permanent attractions, both to be installed in downtown Walnut Ridge. The first is the Beatle’s “Abbey Road” album cover, recreated as steel silhouettes with a hand-etched aluminum background, to commemorate the Beatles’ lone visit to Arkansas, which included a brief arrival at and departure from the Walnut Ridge airport in 1964. The second is a 100-foot-by-40-foot concrete walkway in the shape of a guitar, to be surrounded by metal cutout figures representing the iconic musicians who used to travel and perform along U.S. 67.

The seven-member tourism committee has raised at least $40,000 so far for both projects, calling on local and regional businesses and Walnut Ridge residents, as well as tracking down Walnut Ridge High School alumni scattered across Arkansas and other states, to donate cash to pay for the tourist attractions.

Walnut Ridge metal worker Dan West volunteered to create the Beatles sculpture, spending more than 500 hours so far etching details into heavy aluminum. JMS Russel Metals Corp. in Jonesboro donated the steel plates and aluminum.

City property owner and tourism committee member Charles Snapp bought and donated downtown land on which to exhibit the Beatles sculpture and to serve as Beatles Park.

Louise Harrison, Beatles guitarist George Harrison’s sister, volunteered her Beatles tribute band, the Liverpool Legends, to perform at the unveiling of the Beatles exhibit next month.                                 

The collective response is resulting in what Walnut Ridge leaders hope is the revival of the city’s downtown.

Snapp said he believes the new tourist attractions will appeal to the approximately 50,000 residents of Lawrence, Randolph and Sharp counties who live within a 20-mile span outside Walnut Ridge, as well as to visitors traveling the highways that cross or pass the town, and even, perhaps, to music lovers from all over the world.

Such visitors could then patronize Walnut Ridge’s downtown businesses, he said.

Within the past six months, Snapp has bought seven rundown commercial properties in Walnut Ridge’s neglected downtown with the firm belief that the city is coming back.

“It’s just one of those weird things that seemed to fall in place. The timing’s right enough that we were willing to invest,” Snapp said.

 

 

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