Travelers along Interstate 40 recognize Carlisle’s name as one of the many potential stops along the path between Little Rock and Memphis. Billboards for Nick’s Bar-B-Q put Carlisle’s name in a prominent spot and even the city airport’s blue-and-white beacon light serves as a distinctive landmark along a highway with plenty of non-distinctive features.
But the heart and soul of Carlisle is located barely a mile south of the interstate, and until 2009, the main artery from the interstate that carried traffic to the city’s center – State Highway 13 – had a winding route through the heart of the city.
“The construction on I-40 caused transport trucks to be diverted through our city. Many of the trucks caused property damage by running through ditches trying to navigate the turns,” said Ray Glover, mayor of Carlisle. “Some of the trucks carried hazardous materials. This road also passed by the city park, which was very dangerous for our children.”
The city of Carlisle and the Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department worked together to connect Highway 13 to the southern end of town at U.S. Highway 70. The new route is called the Bobby L. Glover Highway, named after a former mayor of Carlisle who also spent more than 20 years representing Lonoke County in the Arkansas General Assembly as a state representative and state senator. (He is also a cousin of the current mayor.)
The new highway provides benefits for both residents and visitors. Residents see less traffic on their city streets and their families are safer. Visitors enjoy getting from point A to point B a little faster.
“It allows easier access to the businesses situated along the highway,” said Mayor Glover. “It also makes the land along the highway more attractive for future economic development.”
It’s one example of why Carlisle was selected as the winner of the 2013 Arkansas Business City of Distinction Quality of Life category for cities with a population fewer than 5,000.
Carlisle is a small town, but its people are civic minded. Along with the highway, other less-literal paths to the future have been repaired. The Carlisle Civic Center was built with grant money and a loan obtained by the city. The $1.1 million, 8,000-SF facility is the new home of Carlisle’s administrative offices and contains the boardroom where the city council and chamber of commerce meet. With a large auditorium available for rent and even a full kitchen for banquets, the center is used by people living in surrounding communities as well.
“The auditorium has served people as far away as Missouri. Our central location in Arkansas allows us to attract individuals and businesses from a large area,” said Glover.
While the Carlisle Civic Center provides a place for government and economic operations for the area, the Carlisle Community Center gives residents a home for arts, sports and learning. The building is located at the Carlisle City Park and is used for youth basketball teams, Taekwondo classes, dance classes and other events throughout the year. With an $80,000 Energy Efficiency Grant, the community center got a new look with updated siding, a refinished floor, central air conditioning and heating units installed, a new roof and new doors.
The first step on the road to renovation sometimes starts with recovery. On May 2, 2008, an EF-1 tornado passed through downtown Carlisle, tearing holes through the roof and walls of the fire department and twisting all of its metal support beams. Through insurance money, FEMA and grants, the city now has a new $500 thousand fire station in the heart of downtown. Completed in October, 2011, the new Carlisle Fire Department houses all of the fire trucks, equipment and a training room which also doubles a safe room from the next tornado. Glover says the new facility brings other benefits to the community besides safety.
“The new Carlisle Fire Department gives our citizens peace of mind for fire protection, while giving our homeowners a better rating towards homeowners insurance,” he said.
More economic development can be seen in building the Carlisle Senior Citizens Center. Using grant money, donations and a loan that was paid back in two years, the $300,000 facility now provides a public place for seniors to eat meals and enjoy activities five days a week. Adjacent to the center, a new park was developed complete with a walking track for exercise.
But it all comes back to the streets of Carlisle. In 2011, Mayor Glover and the City Council asked the residents to pass a seven-eighths of a cent sales tax to pave all of the streets in Carlisle. The sales tax passed. Where there used to be crumbling pavement or dirt on the roads the people of Carlisle used to get from one point to another, there are now paved streets.
“The improvements made in our city over the last few years,” said Glover, “have instilled a greater sense of community pride within our citizens and certainly have added to everyone’s quality of life.”
And now, it’s not just the travelers on I-40 who are getting around with ease.