Healthy people build healthy communities was one of the points Mulberry Mayor Gary Baxter and Van Buren City Planner Joe Hurst stressed at an informational meeting hosted by the Leadership Crawford County Alumni Association.

"Parks contribute to a city in lots of ways," Hurst told the group Monday night at Western Sizzlin in Van Buren. "Parks contribute to a healthier lifestyle. Parks provide a direct correlation to the health of a community."

Statistics from Aspire Arkansas, a report commissioned by the Arkansas Community Foundation, states Arkansas loses around $17 billion each year in healthcare expenses and lost productivity due to chronic disease. The report found increased healthcare costs from obesity alone total more than $1.5 billion per year in Arkansas.

The first quarterly meeting hosted by LCC alumni focused on the parks system in Mulberry and Van Buren.

"Six parks in Mulberry offer beauty to its citizens," Baxter said. "We are located in a choice place that offers access to the Boston Mountains, Ozark Mountains and Mulberry and Arkansas rivers. We are truly blessed."

Mulberry operates and maintains Bluff Hole Park, Vine Prairie boat launch, Vine Prairie campgrounds, T.J. House Reservoir, Kirksey Park and Mulberry City Park.

"The parks system is a draw," Baxter said. "We want people to utilize our parks to be a healthy community."

Parks also provide an economic impact for a community, Hurst said.

"Baby boomers look for a quality of life when moving to a city," he said. "Retirees are attracted to a city with a good parks system."

In July 2012, Van Buren voters overwhelmingly approved a 1-cent sales tax with 15 percent devoted to improvements to the city’s parks. Since then, Hurst has hosted several public hearings.

"This has been a great opportunity to see what the people want," he said.

Van Buren recently leased Lee Creek Park from the Corps of Engineers and has begun improvements with the help of CASS Job Corps. Land has been purchased to enhance the Veterans’ Park in downtown, softball fields and concession stands have been added at the Field of Dreams and renovation of the tennis courts has begun. Disc golf has been added to the city park and pickle ball courts are planned for VanZandt Park.

More than 55 acres have been donated to the city for a future park adjacent to Forest Oaks and Park Ridge. A permanent Farmers’ Market along with walking, hiking and biking trails are being studied.

"We plan to start comprehensive planning to see what the park system will look like in 20 years," Hurst said. "Parks are important for the city’s future."