Over the past two decades, Bentonville has grown from a sleepy hamlet tucked away into the corner of northwest Arkansas to perhaps the world’s most prominent small city of 35,000.
Being the home of the world’s largest retailer can do that to you. As the city has grown, so have its infrastructure needs. City voters passed a $15 million parks bond in 2007, and since then seven new parks have been constructed, two city parks have been renovated and four new recreational programs and four seasonal programs created.
Bentonville’s commitment to meeting the needs of its residents has earned it recognition as a 2011 Arkansas Business City of Distinction for quality of life.
The city estimates more than 20,000 previously underserved residents have benefited from these additions in the last year alone. Shelli Kerr, planning service manager for the city, said the new parks and programs have energized quality of life in Bentonville.
“The improvement and addition of new park facilities provides unlimited opportunities for future programming,” she said.
Since 2009, the following projects have been completed:
Renovation of Memorial and Park Springs parks: Memorial Park is Bentonville’s community park. The parks bond enabled the city to renovate its pavilion, playground and restrooms. In addition, four volleyball courts were added, and they host recreational play plus competitive tournaments. More than 20 playing fields were renovated and a 12-court tennis complex constructed. At Park Springs, the creek bed was improved and a beginner mountain bike course added.
Creation of 16-acre Orchards Park: The park was opened on July 4, 2010, and sits across from the site of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. It features gardens, pavilions, picnic areas, an amphitheater and open space. Orchards Park hosts the city’s summer concert series as well as other nonsporting events.
Creation of Gilmore and Enfield neighborhood parks: These parks were designed hand-in-hand with neighborhood residents. Enfield has trail access to the Crystal Bridges Trail, part of the Regional Razorback Greenway.
Opening of Lawrence Plaza downtown: Opened in November 2010 across from Compton Gardens and the Crystal Bridges Trail, the plaza features an ice skating rink, 100 feet by 70 feet. The rink served 10,000 skaters its first year. In the summer, the space converts to a fountain used as a splash pad by an estimated 225 children per day.
Opening of the Downtown Activity Center: Home of the Bentonville Parks & Recreation Department, the newly opened center is 8,200-SF and serves as a central location for recreational registrations and new wellness programs.
Construction of the 2.5-mile South Bentonville Trail: Completed this past spring, the trail serves as the backbone of the Regional Razorback Greenway, stretching from Fayetteville to Bentonville, and connects directly to the Rogers Greenway system. It runs adjacent to Bentonville High School, Northwest Arkansas Medical Center and the Wal-Mart corporate fitness center.
Opening of the city’s first dog park, Bentonville Bark Park: Adjacent to the North Bentonville Trail, the park includes separate areas for big and small dogs and an agility course. A committee led by a local Girl Scout privately raised $150,000 to open the park.
Planned construction of the 75,000-SF Bentonville Community Recreation Center: Construction will begin this fall. Amenities will include a gym, indoor running track, two pools (leisure and competitive) and community meeting rooms.
New programs include youth soccer, which kicked off in the fall of 2010 with about 1,100 kids ages 3 to 16; adult kickball, which began last fall with 60 participants; girls softball, 630 kids ages 4 to 16, and tennis.
New events include An Evening at Orchard Park: Fourth of July Celebration, which had an estimated 6,500 spectators this year; the Bentonville Running Festival, which featured 1,200 runners this past April; Concerts at Orchard Park, a series of six concerts (disco, jazz, country and rock) that averaged 400 folks per show, and the new First Friday Flicks at Lawrence Plaza, which began in March with an average attendance of 75.
This infusion of recreational programming prompted the city to hire two full-time employees devoted to these self-sustaining programs.
The passage of the parks bond should continue to have an impact on Bentonville for years to come.
“The parks bond kicked off the biggest effort to improve the park and recreation system in Bentonville’s history,” Kerr said.
Which is, after all, the least residents could do for the most prominent small city in the world.