“Our tourism experience has become broader and much more comprehensive over the last several years thanks to the efforts of the Delta Culture Center, the Delta Bridge Project and the A & P Commission,” Cathy Cunningham community development consultant for Southern Bancorp's Community Partners told Helena-West Helena Rotarians last Wednesday.
Cunningham stated that the success was due to the expansion of the city's musical venues, recreational assets, entrepreneurial opportunities, “and of course our Civil War story.”
“Year's ago I think the only musical venues we had in Helena were only of the Warfield concerts with Ms. Lily Peter as the driving force behind those. We were fortunate enough to bring about the blue's festival, the Wild Hog festival, the Gospel festival and just recently the Live on the Levee series,” commented Cunningham.
Cunningham explained that with the expansions of the city's recreational venues such as the river park and thanks to the Advertising & Promotion Commission the community will be supporting a feasibility study to look at other ways the park could be used for venues such as R.V. camping and to create a better experience for the steamboats as their docking.
“Most recently we have been working with the Boys & Girls Club of Phillips County in the construction of the major sport complex behind their facility,” reported Cunningham.
Cunningham said that the B&GC recently presented a proposal to through the Delta Bridge Project to the Walton Family Foundation and the Cal Ripken Foundation for almost a million dollars.
According to Cunningham, The Quapaw Canoe Company and John Ruskey bought the building on the levee right across from the River Park and plan to expand some in that area.
“They also hope to implement a bike rental service in the future,” stated Cunningham
Cunningham noted that the A & P Commission is also trying to improve on the city's current assets and reported that the A & P Commission received word that they will be able to help with the paving of the road through Maple Hill Cemetery in order to make the experience of the visitors tours much more enjoyable.
The future looks bright for Civil War tourism in the area with additional signage placements expected to be added in 6 to 9 months along with scenic byways improvements on Biscoe that will include removing several eyesores.
“With grant funds through the National Scenic Byways and the Arkansas Highway Department, we will be building new sidewalks throughout the area designating the old U Save shopping center, the carwash neighboring the old U Save building, Estevan Hall and the carwash across from the Edwardian Inn,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham reported that two of the sites will be transformed into 5 life- size panels that will show the Union Army marching into Helena, followed by the freedom seekers.
Page 2 of 2 - “Misty Staley will handle the art work on the five panels, which will be photographed and then fabricated just like the panels located throughout Helena,” stated Cunningham. “It's our hopes that by placing more of these sites much closer to the bridge and Biscoe we will grab the visitors curiosity quickly and encourage them to tour our historical treasures.”
“We have also got word that the Walton Family Foundation will fund the access and interpretation at Battery C. which will feature a brick and rod iron gate that will be opened every morning and closed every evening as well as a 20-foot wide concrete or asphalt driveway and a concrete walkway that will take you to the top of the hill where the interpretative panels will reflect the history of Battery D, B, and Battery A,” continued Cunningham. “This will give a great overview of what it looked like to those soldiers during the battle of Helena.”
Signage improvements will be included. Cunningham explained that an application for funding throughout several grant fund agencies has been presented through the Delta Bridge Project that will go toward 21 additional signs that will be place along Highway 49 and 49 B interchange as well as Sebastian, Plaza and Oakland pointing out the college the Chamber of Commerce and the forest.
Cunningham also noted that continued improvements will be implemented throughout Cherry and Plaza streets including a few banners along Plaza and incorporating a design detailing structural, planting and lighting changes in the center median.
“This project is funded for the majority of the design and there will be community meetings before this work begins,” concluded Cunningham.