Presenting a more inviting and appealing environment for the Van Buren riverfront would be vital to the future growth of historic downtown.

That was the consensus of a class project by students at the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith.

UAFS students Britney Campbell, Amanda Craven, Madison Hunt, Chelsea Rhodes and Derrick Woolsey report a riverfront revival would result in an inviting and appealing environment to attract local residents and visitors to the Mike Meyer Memorial Park and Lee Creek Park along the Arkansas River.

Since the beginning of September, students of the UAFS College of Business have been studying and researching various aspects of downtown Van Buren to come up with ideas and suggestions for improvements. Students are part of the Business College’s Marketing Research class taught by Assistant Professor of Marketing Dr. Elise Riker.

On Nov. 28 and 30, students made presentations to the public at the King Opera House.

A survey by the UAFS students found 50.53 percent of those surveyed were neutral about their first reaction to Lee Creek Park. Only 7.37 percent were very positive while 26.32 percent were somewhat positive. A very negative response came from 4.21 percent and somewhat negative from 11.58 percent.

Seventy percent of those surveyed said they would not recommended the riverfront to a friend.

However, the students said the riverfront could be viable with a more inviting and appealing environment along with interactive activities and a safer environment.

An activities survey showed 42.71 percent of those interviewed would like to see a zip line along the riverfront, 39.58 percent hiking and biking trails, 11.46 disc golf and 6.25 bike rentals.

The survey stated the hiking and biking trails would include minimal risk, but no direct revenue while the disc golf offers possible revenue, but lack of survey support.

A zip line offers unique quality, statistical support and revenue potential, but also is the most risky option, the survey stated.

Students stressed the riverfront would need safe environment measures with lighting with the key factors being a clarified layout and security.

Emphasizing walkways, focal points and gathering places and improving docks and ramps for extended hours also were suggested.

The survey found accessibility another major factor.

The current route is unwelcoming and includes obstacles from Simmons Food Inc. and potholes, the survey states.

Students suggested a reroute to bypass Simmons to include a smoother route, clearer direction and scenic drive.

At the September meeting, Van Buren City Council members voted to enter into an agreement with Hawkins-Weir Engineers Inc. to provide engineering services for the Lee Creek Access Road improvement project. Mayor Bob Freeman said the cost will not exceed $30,000.

Brett Peters of Hawkins-Weir said the project will include replacing a pedestrian bridge in Mike Meyer Park with a bridge for vehicles and drainage improvements.

“We want to improve access to the park while avoiding the street behind the Simmons Food plant,” Peters said. “The first step will be the widening of a drainage channel.”

Freeman said the city also is seeking state funding for the project as well as a state grant to make repairs to the Jefferson Street bridge. He said future planning calls for a study of accessing Mike Meyer Park and the Lee Creek area by making an immediate turn to the west off the Jefferson Street bridge.

Next: Van Buren excursion train.