Cross the river.
The Clinton Presidential Park Bridge is a beautiful transformation of a railroad bridge into a pedestrian expanse that completes the east loop of the River Trail in Little Rock and North Little Rock. The walkway is engraved with names of donors, special lighting has been incorporated into the design and flower boxes on the rails add a soft touch to the steel. From the bridge you can see the city skyline on the north, the winding Arkansas River to the south and, at the foot of the bridge on the Presidential Park’s river edge, the 13-acre Bill Clark Wetlands. The wetlands, constructed in a river backwater, was a multi-agency project involving city and state plant and animal scientists and landscapers. It’s traversed by wooden walkways, features a pavilion for shade and a sculpture of Clark, whose company constructed the Clinton Presidential Library and Archives. It has an educational element as well: Downtown Little Rock drains into the river here; a box collects trash to demonstrate that trash carelessly tossed onto the street ends up in the river. The Junction Bridge from Riverfront Park is another route across the river, but without the graceful ramps that the Clinton Bridge has; bikers must haul their wheels up a flight of stairs to access the span.
Hit the Heifer Village.
No, it’s not a small town populated by female cows, but it does demonstrate the “it takes a village” axiom. Heifer International constructed the educational facility next to its headquarters just south of the Clinton library, and there you’ll learn about how people live in the undeveloped parts of the planet, where you can’t just turn on a tap to get water or go to the grocery store for food. There’s also a gift shop and a nice cafe; in good weather, you can eat outside and enjoy the native plant landscaping and views of downtown.
Play in Peabody Park.
There’s the old joke about Mr. Peabody playing for you, but we won’t tell it here. This Riverfront Park haven for children has a splash park (with water shooting up from the ground in various combinations), rocks to climb on, a hill to slide down and a pavilion. It’s meant to give kids a semblance of what it’s like to play in nature (the way its designers once did), rather than on an asphalt lot, and it works. A large sculpture marks the park from the River Trail passing by.
Get a little art.
The city parks department landscaped the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park with steel banks and walkways that allow visitors to walk among sculptures scaled for interior settings but placed in the great outdoors. It’s intimate, if weird, and a nice place to take a stroll just off the backside of the Peabody Hotel.
Watch the ducks.
The Peabody Hotel mallards leave their feather beds in the Royal Peabody Duck Palace on the roof each morning at 11 a.m. for a ride down the elevator with the Duck Master (you’ll know him by his scarlet-and-gold-trimmed jacket) to the lobby, where they waddle down their red carpet to the strains of John Philip Sousa to the fountain. They’ll spend the day in their tiled swimming hole quietly paddling, dabbling and quacking. At 5 p.m., the virtual duck call blows and it’s out of the fountain, back down the red carpet and back up the palace with the master. The hotel says they are fed a dinner of hand-shredded Romaine lettuce, grated carrots, live worms and Peabody Duck trail mix. When they are full-grown and ready to make more mallards, they are released into the wild.
And drink, eat and be merry.
The River Market district is to Little Rock as Beale Street is to Memphis — or at least that’s what it might grow into, as President Clinton attracts more restaurants and bars. Once imagined as a retail district, with furniture stores and dress shops and a sporting goods emporium, Clinton and streets south now serve to quench one’s thirst rather than solve one’s down skiwear needs. You’ve got piano bars, beer bars, clubs that bring in all variety of musical acts, restaurants, all of which draw the tourist trade to the neighborhood in massive numbers on Friday and Saturday nights.