The path to downtown Fort Smith just got a little easier for the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith campus community and those living along the seven miles of streets now designated as the Blue Lion Bikeway, a path that will benefit Fort Smith residents and will be celebrated during a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. Sept. 7 at the Campus Green at UAFS.
Co-sponsored by Arvest Bank and UAFS, the ribbon cutting will recognize the bikeway connecting the campus to the city’s downtown area via seven miles of streets designated as sharrows, or shared bicycle lanes. The corridor spans Kinkead Ave., Park Ave. and North E St.
The bikeway was made possible through a $50,000 donation from Arvest in January to fund the installation of traffic signs and the painting of the sharrow designation on city roads, and the route will offer numerous perks to the Fort Smith community.
Specifically, the city will see a benefit by connecting neighborhoods to parks and public facilities, promoting exercise for local residents, improving land values, and growing economic development. Moreover, the painted roadways will provide a safety factor by reminding motorists of the presence of bike riders along this designated route.
“The bikeway is hitting multiple areas where people will benefit,” said Chris Raible, Business Banking Manager at Arvest and member of the Parks and Recreation Committee. “It’s going to increase commerce to downtown just from people biking down there, and studies have shown that trails and bikeways increase land values where they’re located.”
Raible said the bikeway will serve as a “connecting point” for the network of trails comprising the city’s burgeoning trails and greenways system. The bikeway will link to the recently completed Greg Smith Riverwalk Trail along the Arkansas River.
Running more than 30 miles, the trails system was commissioned by the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee after overwhelming community support. Local businesses that have supported the trails system include Arvest, Sparks Health System, Propak Logistics, BHC Insurance, Littlefield Oil, Hanna Oil & Gas, Mercy Health, Walther Arms, First National Bank of Fort Smith, and Weldon, Williams & Lick.
Raible pointed to the 2014 Fort Smith Comprehensive Plan, where the trails and greenways system was mentioned more than 40 times in the document, as evidence of support for the system.
“Because the comprehensive plan was a project compiled by the citizens of Fort Smith to outline a vision of the future for the community, that really emphasizes that this is something the citizens want,” Raible said.
UAFS students played an integral part in shaping the bikeway, as the university selected a student to be a member of the Trails and Greenways Committee, which allowed the students to have a voice in the bikeway’s creation, in addition assisting the committee in gathering data.
In a show of student support, the university’s Student Government Association passed a resolution in 2014 supporting a route connecting the campus to the trails and greenways system.
“Every major city around us has trails systems, and it really is a strong draw for young people,” said Matthew Farrar, a UAFS graduate who served as the UAFS representative to the committee. “This is one more step towards a healthier and greener community, but also a community that is focused on keeping young people here and addressing their interests and needs.”
The ribbon cutting is free and open to the public, and free food and drink will be available for those in attendance. For more information, contact Dr. Elizabeth Underwood, associate vice chancellor for government and community relations, at 479-788-7008 or firstname.lastname@example.org.