Hot Springs Fights Flooding with Rain-to-Recreation Watkins Park

Hot Springs Fights Flooding with Rain-to-Recreation Watkins Park

(Editor's Note: Each year, Arkansas Business partners with the Arkansas Municipal League to present the Trendsetter City awards, which recognize exceptional initiatives underway in municipalities across the state. Large, medium and small-sized cities were honored in six categories: Education & Workforce Development; Environmental & Green Management Practices; Infrastructure & Water; Public Safety; Tourism Development & Creative Culture; and Wellness & Fitness. Below is one winner's story. For more, click here.)



Environmental/Green Management Practices
Winner • 20,000 or Greater

Historical flooding of downtown Hot Springs dates to 1885, and the corridor has endured seven 100-year floods since official records began in 1910.

In the flood of 2008, nearly 2,000 property damage claims in the downtown commercial district exceeded $5.3 million, with untold effects on the more than 1,000 employees and the city’s tourism-based economy.

Population: 38,559
Mayor: Pat McCabe
County: Garland
Region: Central

Located 254 feet upstream from this floodplain is the city’s most recent addition to its parks system, David F. Watkins Memorial Park, dedicated in March. The low-impact design of this rain-to-recreation urban park will mitigate flooding impacts on the more than 200 businesses and nearly 1,000 residential structures in the downstream floodplain.

The park is dedicated to David F. Watkins, whose leadership and support as Hot Springs City Manager from April 2012 until his untimely death in August 2015 helped inspire the revitalization of the Park Avenue Neighborhood.

Springs Creek was daylighted by removing the damaged top of its tunnel. An ADA-accessible amphitheater was built to extend 30 feet from the creek to the permeable park space to temporarily fill, detaining stormwater during significant rain events. The amphitheater doubles the use of the space by creating quality of life opportunities for concerts, meetings and other events.

The landscape plan consists of vegetation management practices using native, drought tolerant and pest-resistant plants and trees with wildlife habitat and water quality filtration properties. Bioswales, native plantings and trees included throughout the site allow for absorption and filtration of runoff before watershed re-entry.

Butterfly and pollinator gardens aid in insect and animal diversity, enhancing landscaping and fruit and vegetable production, including from a nearby community garden.

Bicycle racks, a play mound, open green space and the city’s first all-inclusive playground are incorporated to encourage physical activity.

Much of the area is located within the 100-year floodplain, and because of the limited conveyance capacity of the outdated Springs Creek Tunnel, the area’s primary means of conveying storm water, Park Avenue, has suffered frequent flooding.

The park project’s rain-to-recreation approach transforms stormwater management methods into an essential community asset.

David Watkins was an Alabama native and served as city manager and city administrator in Kansas, Alabama and Texas before coming to Hot Springs in 2012.

The Hot Springs Stormwater Division is considered to be the state’s preeminent stormwater quality and control organization under the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, using a municipal separate storm sewer system and national pollutant discharge elimination system. Hot Springs also boasts the state’s most technologically advanced flood monitoring system. In cooperation with the United States Geological Survey, six water-height flood-monitoring gauges and two precipitation gauges are strategically located in creek areas surrounding downtown. The Stormwater Division uses these gauges to check water levels along the creek. It also performs regular testing of the creek’s water at David F. Watkins Memorial Park for illicit discharge detection and elimination.

Not only is the Stormwater team using its expertise and technology to monitor the park’s effectiveness on flood mitigation, it is also partnering with the Parks and Trails Department to host elementary school educational field trips at the park.

The Park Avenue Community Association has been the driving force behind neighborhood revitalization and park creation. Many city departments have brought their expertise to help make the park a success for the community environment as well as the natural environment.

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