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Maybranch Greenway to provide active transportation options to Fort Smith's urban residents

Director of Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Sarah Deuster hikes with engineers and landscape architects during a walkthrough of the planned Maybranch Greenway.
Jack Travis
Director of Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Sarah Deuster hikes with engineers and landscape architects during a walkthrough of the planned Maybranch Greenway.

On a sunny, windy day in Martin Luther King Jr. Park near downtown Fort Smith, Director of Parks and Recreation Sarah Deuster approaches a group of engineers and landscape architects.

They, like Deuster, work with the city of Fort Smith. They met to walk through phase two of the Maybranch Greenway, a new multi-use trail system that will connect the Greg Smith River Trail and Kelley Park Ballfields.

A week prior to our field trip, Duester said over the phone that the city doesnt want the community to think of the Maybranch Greenway as a traditional trail:

"In the past, we've always used the term trail," Deuster said. "And people automatically associate trail with a biker or runner. Well, we're transitioning to greenway. What the Maybranch Greenway does is- It's not just for avid bikers and walkers. It's truly linking key parts of the city where citizens- this Maybranch particularly starts on the north side of town where there are some low income individuals. And it will allow them to actually walk to major destinations. It'll connect them to parks, banks, restaurants, and shopping centers." 

Phase two of the Greenway takes trail users from Martin Luther King Park to the Fort Smith Public Library. During our walkthrough of the proposed route, we passed multiple businesses including 10Box Cost Plus, Bless Hands Barbershop and Panaderia y Botanas la Familia.

A map of the Maybranch Greenway phases and routes.
Sarah Deuster
A map of the Maybranch Greenway phases and routes.

"So that's really why this was prioritized," Deuster said. "Because it's not just for hikers, bikers, and runners—it's for everyone who can utilize it. And it's kind of a campaign. We're going to start with the city's Public Relations Manager and really educate people that there are forms of nonvehicular transportation that the city recognizes can happen, and we're making an effort to provide that opportunity for citizens."

Throughout the walkthrough, engineers Travis Brisendine and Allen Deaver and landscape architects Sally Horsey and Dirk Thibodaux discussed obstacles and how to get around them. Amidst heavy road traffic, Horsey said designers have to keep an open mind because so many things could hinder the greenway’s path.

"Any pedestrian conflicts," Horsey said. "Like a major obstacle might be where we just don't have right of way. There could be a ditch or retaining wall- Something that is a physical barrier that we can't get the trail through. Not so much the utilities because we can normally have those adjusted. But if there was something historic or an environmental concern that we don't want to disturb. Or the slopes, like a cross slope- We know we'll have to put in a retaining wall."

Horsey said that property ownership can prove to be a challenge as well.

The Maybranch Greenway is a way out from completion. Deuster said Phase 1a through Martin Luther King Jr Park will finish by the end of the year, 1b is ready for bidding but the city must wait on a different infrastructure project to complete before they can begin construction. Phase two’s design will likely take six months. Funding is coming from an 8% sales and use tax dedicated for parks capital projects, Land and Water Conservation Fund Grants from the federal government and contributions from the private sector.

Deuster said she is personally excited about the Greenway’s completion because she aims for this project to benefit all Fort Smith residents.

"And I think people will recognize that," Deuster said. "Whereas sometimes people see the trails projects we do, and they're kind of on the outskirts of the city borders. And this one really cuts through the heart of the city. So I'm excited to see that and get more people out there and really utilizing our trails and greenways." 

You might be tempted to compare the in-progress Maybranch Greenway to Fayetteville’s Razorback Greenway. Deuster said she welcomes the comparison and looks to Northwest Arkansas for practical lessons.

"We certainly recognize that, and we want to learn from them, learn from their mistakes, learn from their successes, and what can we do whenever we do have these amenities?" Deuster said. "What can we do to best serve our citizens. But I also think it's not just a straight comparison of we want what they want; you have to have the right amenity in the right location. So it's really balancing what we see as a success in other communities with what makes sense in Fort Smith and what best serves our citizens, and sometimes those align with other cities."

Ozarks at Large transcripts are created on a rush deadline by reporters. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of KUAF programming is the audio record.

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Jack Travis is a reporter for <i>Ozarks at Large</i>.<br/>
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