In a near-annual tradition, the Arkansas Times recently solicited suggestions from thinking people — from experts to the creative-minded — on how to improve life in Arkansas. We present their ideas here. We hope you find them as inspirational as we do. If any especially strike a chord with you, help make them happen. Many are works in progress; those that aren’t could be with the right collection of advocates.
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Chuck Campbell: Put Arkansas (biking) on the map
Thanks to a schoolteacher from Russellville, bike-packers and other cyclists can follow a 1,200-mile route that will take them from the Ozarks to the Ouachitas.
It was in 2015 in Banff, Alberta, Canada, that cyclist Chuck Campbell got the big idea to lay out and map a trail in Arkansas. Campbell and cycling buddy Mike Dicken were eating pizza and looking at route maps created by Adventure Cycling before they were to set off on the rugged Tour Divide, from Canada to New Mexico.
“It looked to me like Arkansas was the only state that didn’t have any miles in the Adventure Cycling map system,” Campbell said (though it turned out he was wrong about that. At the time, there was no map for routes in
He and Dicken talked for days about the idea as they pedaled the Continental Divide. When Campbell returned to Arkansas he called Montana-based cartographer (and magazine publisher) Adventure Cycling and spoke to Carla Majernik, director of maps and routing, about the idea.
“Her response was warmer than I thought it would be,” Campbell said. She told him to mark out his idea on a highway map and send it to Adventure Cycling. He did, and the nonprofit told him “they thought this looks cool. It might be a good idea,” he said.
Then one of Adventure Cycling’s employees who happened to be traveling to Mississippi decided to make a stop in Arkansas and ride part of the route with Campbell. “He was just sold immediately,” Campbell said.
After that visit to Arkansas, Adventure Cycling put the ride on its blog to see if there was interest in the Ozarks/Ouachita route. There, the company’s Travis Switzer wrote, “You can’t really blame a bunch of Montana cartographers for our initial skepticism of placing the words ‘mountain bike’ and ‘Arkansas’ in the same sentence. … Boy, were we wrong.”
“It blew up,” Campbell said. “Next thing I know, these people are trying to friend me on Facebook.”
One was Joe Jacobs, marketing manager for Arkansas State Parks. Another was Gary Vernon of Bella Vista, a program officer with the Walton Family Foundation, a significant player in bike trail development in Northwest Arkansas and Hot Springs.
The Walton Foundation was so taken with the idea that it made a grant of $100,000 to the Arkansas Parks and Recreation Foundation, a new entity formed to support the agency, to hire someone to do the mapping for Adventure Cycling. That someone was Campbell.
Campbell, who teaches environmental science at Russellville High School, said Adventure Cycling was apologetic about the pay. “I thought, crap, they’re going to pay me?” he said.
Equipped with a GPS unit that also recorded his commentary on route landmarks and dropped a pin to mark the landmark, Campbell spent the summers of 2017 and 2018 driving the route, which includes gravel, road and paved bike trails.
Campbell completed 400 miles in 2017. At Majernik’s suggestion, he added in a cutoff loop from Dardanelle over Petit Jean Mountain to Conway. There are two more loops, both single track, west of Hot Springs.
The route includes “only … two places that have a high pucker factor,” Campbell said: the bridge at Dardanelle and a narrow section on the road around Roland.
Adventure Cycling will launch the High Country Route map, which is a two-map set, on May 1.
The first official ride on the route is set for June 8: The High Country Race will kick off at sunrise at the Clinton Presidential Center Park Bridge and take riders on 1,000-mile ride north to the state’s border with Missouri and back to in Little Rock. Get more information at facebook.com/ArHCrace.
Maps of the route may be purchased in waterproof paper form or through an app. Adventure Cycling will also sell GPS information for cyclists’ Garmin devices, Alex Strickland of Adventure Cycling said. Ellee Thalheimer of Portland, Ore., a freelance writer and the daughter of Chainwheel owner Bruce Thalheimer, will ride and write about the trail this summer for Adventure Cycling.
— Leslie Newell Peacock
Many Big Ideas for education
By Stacey James McAdoo
It’s been almost a year since I was named the Teacher of the Year for the Little Rock School District and roughly seven months since being named the Teacher of the Year for Arkansas. Soon, I’ll step out of the classroom for a year to assume that position. In theory, I’ve had close to 9,000 hours to think about my “big idea” to improve education in Arkansas and what I would like to shine a light on, using an amplified teacher voice.
“Pick one issue,” they’ve said. “Think of, then share, one message — one thing you’re passionate about and focus on that.” But that’s extremely difficult for someone who lives in her head and who knows intimately the dangers of and damage caused by singular stories.
I grew up in a single-parent household. The neighborhood that I affectionately remember is now often described as “south of 630” by outsiders, a phrase usually said with disdain. And although I am in no way ashamed of who I am or where I come from, when people who don’t “know know” me introduce me, those singular story buzzwords they use make me cringe.
I get it. I am the typical feel-good story that people like to share. It usually goes a little something like this: “Stacey James McAdoo, born to parents from the projects, whose father was a high school dropout, who was murdered by the time she started grade school, has been defying the odds for more than four decades. An average student in high school, who paid for college out-of-pocket while working full time, she now serves as an inspiration to many at-risk youth. She is currently an AVID and Communication instructor in an urban school district where she spends most of her day teaching students from low socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Insert gagging sound here.
While I am the person described in the text above, I’m so much more. I care deeply about many, many things. Life experiences, losses and first-hand exposure to blatant racism and social injustices have never afforded me the luxury to care about just one thing in the education world. I’m passionate about addressing inequities in education, including but not limited to school funding, zoning, access to curriculum and resources, and the distribution of teacher course loads, duties, assignments and salaries. I’m passionate about teacher recruitment and retention — especially as it relates to the need for more blacks and other educators of color in core subjects and advanced placement classes, as well as leadership positions. I’m passionate about providing wraparound services for students and teachers, putting more counselors (not cops) in school, and removing gatekeepers, policymakers and lobbyists from education, who, as Ice Cube said, “either don’t know, don’t show or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”
Revisiting high school graduation requirements, revamping course offerings and re-examining our policies and procedures for implicit biases are also things continuously at the forefront of my mind. I even passionately care about being treated like the licensed professional that I am and protecting the sacredness of my limited time. I’m passionate about eliminating from the teaching profession punitive tasks and anything I’m required to do, if “no” is the answer to my question of, “If I don’t do this, am I hurting my students?”
As a classroom teacher, I pride myself not on the statistical data and test scores of my students, but rather on the relationships built, the connections made and the art of reflective practice. Before I can take students up Bloom’s ladder of learning goals or help them develop what teachers call a “growth mindset” that promotes positive thinking about what they can accomplish, their human needs must be addressed.
Every single thing I do in the classroom is done with the goal of getting my students closer to their self-actualization and realizing the greatness that was already inside them long before they ever met me. I often use my passions and poetry as a connector to help remove barriers so that they can see themselves more clearly.
So, if a singular story must be told or only ONE big idea or message shared, let it be that. But the truth is that something as complex as education requires many, many big ideas, first acknowledged and then executed well.
Stacey James McAdoo, the 2019 Arkansas Teacher of the Year (affectionately referred to as 2019 ATOY), is a 16-year oral communication instructor, AVID coordinator and sponsor of the spoken word collective Writeous Poets from Little Rock. She teaches at Little Rock Central High School where she is the living embodiment of her ATOY platform of using passion and poetry to close the opportunity gap. Her journey can be followed at stillstacey.com or via @2019ATOY on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
Create a STUDENT diplomatic corps
By Joyce Elliott
In the mid-1980s, I read Myra MacPherson’s book “Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation.” I am one of the haunted, for this was my generation. For some reason, perhaps willful denial, I silently wondered why I knew several young men who fought in Vietnam; two of the gentlest of those souls lost their lives to the war or its after-effects.
MacPherson helped me understand: “By the mid-sixties the racial and class inequities of the Vietnam War were scandalous. General S.L.A. Marshall … commented ‘In the average rifle company, the strength was 50 percent composed of Negroes, Southwestern Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Guamanians, Nisei, so on. But the real cross-section of American youth? Almost never.’ ”
MacPherson also wrote that in 1965, “blacks accounted for 24 percent of all Army combat deaths.” It seems a trite realization now, but it was not until I read “Long Time Passing” that I finally took the time to think out loud about why I knew so many who went to Vietnam. They disproportionally came from “my world” of color, poverty and geographic disadvantage.
It is with this backdrop that I propose the following Big Idea:
As a country, we have long and rightfully respected the presence of Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) at the high school level. But the changing world demands an emphasis on diplomacy as a balance. Unwittingly, we tend to teach/socialize our students to seek resolution to world-stage conflicts disproportionately through military action. Even though they are often misinformed, students are uninhibitedly conversant about the role of the military. On the other hand, they are all but unilaterally unarmed when it comes to diplomatic considerations — a situation that can be remedied through the high school curriculum, followed by further postsecondary study. The lack of balance is striking, for so much is demanded of our military men and women and their families without a commensurate expectation from diplomatic efforts.
The other lack of balance is who makes up the United States’ diplomatic corps. Overwhelmingly, they do not reflect the men, and now women, who make up our military corps. This must change. A great incubator for that change is to start in a school where the student body will predominantly be made up of black and brown students, many of whom will reflect the economic status of the men and women who served in Vietnam.
I propose that the Little Rock School District’s new Southwest High School should have a concentration on preparing graduates for careers in diplomacy through a Diplomatic Officers Training Corps, just as students at Parkview and Central high schools have access to ROTC, which prepares them for jobs/careers in the military. There will be a major difference, however: The methods of diplomacy will permeate daily practices and interactions beginning in feeder elementary and middle schools as principals, teachers, other staff and students learn and implement skills of diplomacy. Whether or not a student chooses to pursue a career in diplomacy, the skills learned and practiced will serve them for a lifetime.
At Southwest High School, the curriculum will be complemented by courses and other resources specific to diplomacy. Several AP courses are apropos. Among them are microeconomics, macroeconomics, environmental science, world languages, comparative government and politics, human geography, U.S. government and politics, art history and statistics. Students will take a world language beginning as early as feasible in elementary school and will be introduced to the wonders of art and science.
There are several possible resources and partnerships available to help create a world-class DOTC curriculum. Among them may be UA Little Rock’s international studies department, Philander Smith College’s Institute of Justice and the Clinton School of Public Services. Other resources are immediately available through the State Department’s U.S. Diplomacy Center, whose mission is to inform and engage students, teachers and others involved in international education about diplomacy and the work of the State Department. The Diplomacy Center’s mission also supports the mission to explain why diplomacy matters and to inspire future leaders. A DOTC would help fuel that inspiration and help lead to a world worthy of being inherited by future generations.
Joyce Elliott is a Democratic state senator representing District 31 and a former schoolteacher.
Municipal fiber for Little Rock
By Jordan Little
To set itself apart in a burgeoning regional tech-startup ecosystem, Little Rock should invest in a citywide gigabit fiber network and provide internet access to its citizens as a public utility.
Through projects like the Venture Center and the Tech Park, Little Rock has attempted to brand itself as a magnet for startups and web-based businesses. But the city’s advocacy for online entrepreneurship is hamstrung by low broadband speeds and high costs due to a lack of competition among internet service providers in the metro area.
Comcast and AT&T have enjoyed a near-duopoly for over a decade. Consumers pay the price in notoriously bad customer support, overpriced plans, high fees and forced bundling of unwanted services. Businesses and residents are gouged for molasses-like download speeds compared to other cities, and some places near the city limits do not have access to broadband at all. Private corporations are beholden to their shareholders’ demands for profit and growth and have little impetus to invest in areas with low population density or improve infrastructure for contracted customers.
Until recently, a state law prevented cities from building their own fiber networks. But thanks to legislation recently signed by the governor, Act 198, a network belonging to the citizens of Little Rock is looking more possible. The new law will allow a government entity to apply for grants or loans to “deploy broadband service in underserved areas.”
A fast, reliable — and affordable — city-owned gigabit connection, unburdened by the inefficiencies imposed by monolithic corporations, could revolutionize the way we live and do business in Little Rock. Higher-income citizens willing to pay extra for faster speeds could help subsidize cheap or free connections for lower-income and rural areas. Startups would be more willing to set up in small spaces downtown and allow their employees to work remotely — a model that Little Rock web development agency Few has recently been touting — if they knew they’d have a solid connection to the office. A publicly owned fiber network would provide a framework for smarter traffic lights, faster connections for schools, rock-solid infrastructure for emergency services, and data collection for informed decision-making on a citywide scale.
As far-fetched as this sounds in “small government” territory, a city in Tennessee that looks a lot like ours did it almost a decade ago.
Chattanooga’s and Little Rock’s populations and demographics are very similar, they’re both situated on rivers and they both have downtowns undergoing rejuvenation. Ten years ago, Chattanooga’s ISP market resembled Little Rock’s, but through federal grants, a concerted effort by several groups — both public and private — and some key legal victories, the city was able to start offering municipally owned, democratically controlled gigabit internet connections. In late spring of 2010, subscriptions were at 8,500. Less than a year later, they’d ballooned to over 25,000.
Their victory did not come easily. Incumbent private ISPs will never allow municipal fiber in without a fight.
In 2008, less than a day before Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board was to discuss a $227 million bond allowing it to build its own cable network, a lawsuit was filed by Comcast in an attempt to stop a vote. It was dismissed and the bond was approved. A nearly identical lawsuit filed by a group that included Comcast alleged “the EPB venture [was] an illegal cross-subsidy of ratepayer funds.” This lawsuit, too, was dismissed. The delays, however, allowed Comcast time to lock more small businesses into long-term contracts and make hasty investments in their infrastructure. A 2012 study on the project by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance noted that “this was likely the first time Chattanooga was ever prioritized over Atlanta for such upgrades, and it happened as a direct response to the threat of competition.”
Chattanooga’s mayor, Andy Berke, played an integral role as matchmaker and liaison to various nonprofits, philanthropists and tech-advocacy players, championing the idea of inexpensive, world-class internet access for Chattanoogans. In a 2016 interview with Techdirt, Berke said the project had led to “an explosion of growth” in the tech sector that in turn brought in new restaurants, nightlife and other businesses downtown. “It changed our conceptions of who we are and what is possible,” the mayor said.
Chattanooga’s “Gig City” now offers 10 gigabit speeds to its business customers and services over 100,000 accounts. It is just one of dozens of successful projects of its kind across the country.
Surprisingly, municipal fiber isn’t a new idea for Pulaski County. In 1998, the city commissioned a feasibility study for a 1,800-mile fiber network that would’ve brought broadband to over 150,000 homes in Little Rock, North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle and Jacksonville. The project was estimated to cost over $50 million, but Little Rock’s population density provided for more than 65 homes per mile of fiber, enough to justify the project’s cost. Comcast did its own study at the time, which found these numbers to be overly optimistic. Then-Vice Mayor Michael Keck said in response, “I would expect them to be critical of anything that we put forward.”
But technology moves fast. A study from the late ’90s would do little to inform a modern solution. The administration of new Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott should follow Chattanooga’s lead and commission a new feasibility study. If Little Rock is to be a part of some Southern/Plains technical renaissance, we must consider building a cutting edge communications platform not beholden to out-of-state shareholders.
Jordan Little is the director of digital strategy at the Arkansas Times and has over 12 years of experience building things on the web. He has taught web design and front-end development at UA Little Rock and has freelanced for dozens of businesses across the state, large and small.
Al Knox and Steve Chyrchel: Bring back the chinquapins
If you are lucky, you might come across an Ozark chinquapin oak in a sunny spot up in Northwest Arkansas. If you are extra lucky, it might have sweet nuts nestled in its bur-covered seed cases, which bear a slight resemblance to tiny green porcupines.
Lucky because the same fungal blight that wiped out the American chestnut also largely took out its cousin, the chinquapin (Castenea ozarkensis), in the 1950s. That same tree you find might also succumb in time.
But just as biologists are working to bring back Longfellow’s spreading tree, so, too, is the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation, which has been working with staff at Hobbs State Park, encompassing parts of Madison, Benton and Carroll counties, to breed a blight-resistant “chinkypin.”
Hobbs’ chinquapin project germinated 17 years ago, when trail maintenance supervisor Al Knox found a tree in Van Winkle Hollow in the park. Knox’s third-person essay of his discovery can be found on the Ozark Chinquapin Foundation’s website:
“Wooah! His face almost smashed into a cluster of green and brown spiny burs on a low-hanging tree limb. … He got a flash of joy! ‘That’s a chinkypin bur! … I haven’t seen one of them in over 50 years!’ ”
Knox, now in his mid-80s, began to hunt for more of the trees, and Hobbs ranger Steve Chyrchel, too, got the chinquapin bug.
Knox “was telling me about how delicious the seeds were and how the kids would play a game called hully-gully,” a guessing game about how many nuts were hidden in a player’s hand, Chyrchel said. They began supplying the Chinquapin Foundation, which is headquartered in Missouri, with nuts from the Hobbs trees.
“After a number of years of us giving [the foundation] seeds, they contacted us and said, ‘Would you like to try some cross-pollination?’ ” Chyrchel said. “We had no idea what we were doing, so we said yes.” They would use the park’s tree found by Knox.
Cross-pollination involves taking pollen from trees that have not yet shown signs of blight and dusting the pistels — the female parts — of other seemingly healthy chinquapins. “It’s hard to kill off an entire species,” Chyrchel said. “So even though the majority died, every once in a while you find one that is not affected by the blight. And we are finding these trees and getting nuts off the trees.”
In 2011, Chyrchel pollinated 50 pistels on the Hobbs chinquapin with pollen gathered from chinquapins found in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri and put paper bags over the pollinated parts to keep other unwanted pollen off the pistels. “We ended up with 32 viable seeds,” Chyrchel said, and sent them off to the foundation. Only one of the seeds successfully produced a tree, the ranger said, “but it survived, and that tree is 8 years old and they got 2,700 seeds off that tree last fall.”
Now, Chyrchel is growing trees on a 2-acre test plot at Hobbs. The park planted 50 trees in 2014. After the first year, half died. But repeating the back-crossing, the park continues to plant trees, and is now getting help from students in the environmental club at Rogers High School, who take measurements, note if bugs are eating leaves, make sure there is water and perform other tasks. There are 40 trees growing now, some as tall as 8 feet.
But chinquapins can grow to 10 or 15 feet before succumbing to the fungal spores that cause blight. Still, with repeat back-pollination, Chyrchel believes a blight-resistant seed can be developed and the Ozarks can once again become home to a healthy populatoin of the tree. Chyrchel, Knox and former Hobbs volunteer coordinator Roland Goicoechea are working on a management plan for the chinquapin project.
Knox said the Ozark chinquapin was once a reliable food source to animals when late frosts hurt acorn production: The chinquapin flowers in late May and early June, sending up white spikes, after the threat of frost has passed. Restoring the chinquapin to the Ozarks would benefit wildlife and the health of the forest.
Because of its rot resistance, the chinquapin was used for fences and railroad ties. The tree is so rot resistant, UA Fayetteville geoscientist Dr. Frederick Paillet said, that you can still find fallen chinquapins in the woods, dead for more than 50 years. “You could cut boards from some of these trees,” Paillet said.
Paillet’s study of chinquapins concerned climate differences and the role of the tree in the forests of the Ozarks. For years, Paillet said, the chinquapin was the Rodney Dangerfield of trees (“I don’t get no respect” was the comedian’s line). Finally, there are efforts to save it. But, Paillet said, it’s going to take years of work and the input of geneticists — the way the American chestnut is coming back — to bring the “chinkypin” back to the Ozarks.
— Leslie Newell Peacock
Garbo Hearne of Arkansans for the Arts: Promote the creative economy
A bipartisan caucus for the arts in the Arkansas legislature: Can it be?
It can, and it is, thanks to the efforts of Arkansans for the Arts, a nonprofit that has used research to show that economic prosperity and the arts — all the arts, including writing, floral design, fashion — go hand in hand.
You don’t need research to see that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has been a huge shot in the arm to Northwest Arkansas. But it doesn’t hurt that Arkansans for the Arts, founded in 2014 in an effort not to become the last state in the union to have a grassroots arts advocacy organization, can offer up data gathered by the national Americans for the Arts to show that arts education improves student graduation rates and that the arts industry brings in new jobs and tourist dollars.
For its first three years, Arkansans for the Arts took part in a study partially funded by the Windgate Charitable Foundation on arts advocacy and the impact of the arts on education in 10 states. Once that was done, Garbo Hearne, chairman of the board of the nonprofit, said, “We realized we needed to get on top of our game of advocating, to be a force … for the creative economy and the arts in Arkansas.”
Hearne, who has seen firsthand how the arts can help transform a community with her gallery, Hearne Fine Arts at 1001 Wright Ave., saw that Tennessee’s arts advocacy nonprofit was forming a legislative arts caucus. So Arkansans for the Arts called on the “drum major for the arts” in Arkansas schools: State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock). They presented her with the numbers: The arts industry in Arkansas has had an economic impact of $2.7 billion and created 34,000 jobs, according to a 2015 analysis. As good as those figures are, the job total doesn’t include part-time work, so it underrepresents the total impact, Arkansans for the Arts says.
Elliott was convinced, and the caucus was formed. “The beauty of this caucus is it’s bipartisan,” Hearne said. The 17 members of the caucus — 10 Republicans and seven Democrats — represent the Arkansas Arts Council’s eight districts. Republican members are Sen. Scott Flippo of Mountain Home, Rep. Jana Della Rosa of Rogers, Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View, Rep. Craig Christiansen of Bald Knob, Sen. Ron Caldwell of Wynne, Sen. Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith, Rep. Sarah Capp of Ozark, Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville, Rep. Les Warren of Hot Springs and Rep. Carol Dalby of Texarkana. Democrats include Elliott, Rep. Monte Hodges of Blytheville, Rep. Deborah Ferguson of West Memphis, Rep. Reginald Murdock of Marianna, Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville, Sen. Eddie Cheatham of Magnolia and Rep. Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff.
Arkansas’s record of arts funding is less than stellar; Arkansans for the Arts hopes to convince the legislature that investing in the arts will grow the economy and keep our native creative people in Arkansas. The nonprofit has ideas: A 1 percent construction set-aside for art for public building projects, as Ohio has done. Support for cultural arts districts that offer affordable space for housing and studios. License plate sales to support arts in the schools.
At the caucus’ meeting in March, this big idea was floated: Giving the arts a seat at the table, literally, at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
Arkansans for the Arts is working with students, too: The University of Central Arkansas in Conway has formed an arts advocacy organization under the guidance of art professor and Associate Dean Gayle Seymour, Hearne said. Students will learn how to lobby: “They’re going to know what the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] is, what the Mid-America Arts [Alliance], the Arts Council, [ask] where does the money go? And how to interact with legislators,” Hearne said. That will train a new generation to urge policymakers to see the arts as good for the state and not a luxury.
Soprano “Beverly Sills said art is the signature of your civilization,” Hearne said. “When everyone is gone, your art will tell your story.”
Arkansans for the Arts is a member-supported organization. To join and learn more about advocacy and the creative economy, go to arkansansforthearts.org.
— Leslie Newell Peacock
A thermal pool for Hot Springs
At the former Majestic Hotel site in Hot Springs, community nonprofit Fifty for the Future hopes to provide visitors to the national park with an answer to a persistent question: Where are the hot springs?
According to the Hot Springs National Park website, approximately 700,000 gallons of hot spring water are collected each day in the park’s water reservoir, but the waters only emerge through a fault at the base of Hot Springs Mountain’s western slope. Aside from several bathhouses and a few fountains in downtown Hot Springs, the namesake waters are hidden from the city’s landscape.
Fifty for the Future’s vision for the Majestic site is a cascading series of thermal pools complete with a changing facility, picnic areas and access to neighboring nature trails. According to Clay Farrar, chair of Fifty for the Future’s Majestic Thermal Pool Redevelopment Committee, the nonprofit hopes the proposed pools would remedy the lack of accessible hot spring water by providing tourists and residents the opportunity to enjoy thermal pools year-round.
While the organization will not fund the project, Farrar said it hopes a developer will “come along and take interest in it.” Founded in 1988, Fifty for the Future has over 100 members that work to raise funds for community progress, Farrar said. The nonprofit has been involved in the construction of the Hot Springs Convention Center, the Bank OZK Arena and the Exchange Street Parking Plaza.
A 1992 feasibility study found there to be “very positive prospects” for a thermal pool complex, permitting its proper design, on Whittington Avenue, Farrar said. That should apply as well to the 5-acre Majestic Hotel property, which the city acquired after the hotel caught fire in February 2014. The city recently hosted two public planning sessions to narrow ideas and proposals for the site. Kansas State University’s Targeted Assistance to Brownfields program helped with the planning sessions. The KSU program provides free technical assistance to communities with redevelopment efforts on former industrial or commercial sites where future use could be impacted by environmental contamination.
Students at the University of Arkansas’ Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design will compile visual renderings of the ideas into a report to be presented to the city, which will form the basis for a request for proposals by the Hot Springs Board of Directors, according to the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record.
“After the Majestic fire, and with the city now having the property available, we decided to push once again for a series of small cascading pools,” Farrar said. “The idea being that we weren’t sure what else was going to come along for the site, so we wanted to plant that flag as more of a conceptual thing.”
In a video produced by Fifty for the Future and written and edited by 61 Celsius, a Hot Springs advertising agency, aerial footage of downtown Hot Springs smoothly transitions into peaceful shots of the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools in New Zealand, which Farrar said the nonprofit’s proposed thermal pools would resemble.
Farrar was quick to caution that the proposed complex would not be a “municipal” pool, but rather one that would require a $30-$40 admission fee and could potentially be surrounded by food courts, an outdoor concert arena and retail stores. Farrar said the thermal pools complex meets the four “guiding values” issued by the Hot Springs Board of Directors for the redevelopment of the Majestic site, principles that are outlined in the nonprofit’s brochure on the project: “Enhance economic opportunities; Improve the local quality of life and enhance the visitor experience; Celebrate the natural wonder of our thermal water” and “Respect the arts, culture, and history of Hot Springs.”
— Rebekah Hall
Kareem Moody: The Big Homie Project
For 25 years, Kareem Moody has been steering young people in Little Rock away from violence and crime. He did gang intervention work for Little Rock city government in the ’90s; spent a decade as program director at P.A.R.K. (Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids), a Southwest Little Rock nonprofit focused on after-school education; and ran a program for at-risk students at Pulaski Technical College. In 2013, then-FBI Director James Comey recognized Moody’s two decades of service with a Director’s Community Leadership Award.
But when Moody looks at the city today, he still sees an emergency in progress. Though his efforts may have changed hundreds of young lives, he’s seen countless others lost to the prison system or murdered. Now, he believes he’s found a solution.
“Everybody knows that there’s a problem, but nobody knows what to do,” he said recently. “They’re afraid of it. But to me, I’m seeing it clearer and clearer.”
Moody, 46, calls his vision “The Big Homie Project.” With the help of longtime fellow activist Marcus Montgomery, he’s assembled a small, trusted cadre of Little Rock natives with deep roots in those neighborhoods hit hardest by poverty, neglect and crime. The effort began evolving about two years ago, an outgrowth of the two men’s work with adult students at Pulaski Tech.
Like other intervention programs, the goal of the Big Homie Project is to reach kids who are slipping through the cracks. The difference is in the interventionists. The “Big Homies” recruited by Moody aren’t white-collar professionals with backgrounds in counseling. They’re “skilled street specialists,” as Moody describes them, who are uniquely able to guide young people away from making deadly mistakes. Many have had their own encounters with the criminal justice system at some point in the past; all have had friends, neighbors and family fall victim to gun violence.
“A Big Homie is not a social worker. He doesn’t have a degree. He just has a heart for it,” Moody said. “The kid is right there in his neighborhood … it might be his nephew. It might be his son. They might be the children of friends or family who are incarcerated or dead. … So it just makes sense that he would plug in.”
David Patrick, 45, is one of the five men who form the core of the program, each of whom typically works with five to 10 youths. “I feel the uniqueness of our project is that we’ve been there,” Patrick said. We grew up in that same environment. We went to bed hungry, so we know the pressures that they’re under. We know the hurdles that they gotta jump.”
Armaad Fitzgerald, 38, another Big Homie, first met Moody and Montgomery through Pulaski Tech’s Network for Student Success, a U.S. Department of Education-funded program aimed at keeping at-risk African-American men in college. Moody was the director of the program from 2009 to 2016. When Fitzgerald first enrolled at Pulaski Tech in 2009, he said, he was “on the wrong side of the law.” Ten years later, he’s finishing up a double major in psychology and criminal justice at UA Little Rock and plans to pursue his doctorate.
“It’s just, like, paying it forward, so to speak. … If I had had a Big Homie behind me when I was their age, I would have been a college graduate, Ph.D., straight and narrow. But I didn’t,” Fitzgerald said.
Moody sees the Big Homies as a team of first responders. “They might be out in the neighborhood talking to somebody, or they broke up a fight, or they took somebody to school, took somebody to GED [classes],” he said. “It’s just on-call, 24/7.” They reach out to parents, teachers, parole officers and others. Most of all, they’re simply there for kids, emotionally and materially. They often connect young people with job opportunities, aided by the deep network of community contacts Moody and Montgomery have cultivated over the years.
Big Homies are paid a stipend of about $500 a month, Moody said. At one time, the program received a small grant from the city, but funding now comes entirely from individuals who believe in the concept.
Moody prefers it that way. Decades of working with big organizations have left him weary of the constraints that come with grants. “I don’t really fit into the programs, because that wears me out. … They can’t spend money unless you jump through hoops,” he said.
It’s an unconventional structure, but Moody says the urgency of the problem demands creative thinking. “At some point, the dying has to trump some stuff,” he said.
His goal now is to secure buy-in from others. “Folks who are … sitting at home, saying, ‘It’s too much, it’s overwhelming’ … you can partner with somebody who’s willing to go places you’re not willing to go and support what they do,” he said. “The big picture is a Big Homie on every corner, and he’s backed by 50 or 100 people that believe in him, and every time he goes out and tries to fix a problem, he’s got a community of support behind him.”
Big Homies provide an invaluable service, Moody argues, and he wants Little Rock residents to conceive of the project as such. “I want them to think in terms of buying a cup of coffee or getting the grass cut or hiring a plumber,” he said, rather than making a charitable donation.
“Take David, for example,” he said. “He’ll spend the day making minimum wage doing demolition work, which, I’m sure that’s valuable to somebody — tearing down buildings. But by the same token, if you could take that eight hours and put him on the block where he knows all these people? He knows who the people are who are breaking in houses in the community. He could say, ‘Hey man, come spend some time with me.’ Is that worth $8 an hour? If it could keep your house from getting broken into, I’d imagine [so].”
— Benjamin Hardy
By Clarke Tucker
Our government is a representative democracy founded on the premise and the principle that the electoral system creating that democracy actually represents the people’s interests on a fair and proportionate basis. The unfortunate reality is that money and other corrupt influences have infected our system. That infection spreads to every single public policy issue and consolidates power disproportionately in the hands of the few.
But we can change the system to better reflect the foundational ideals of our country. To start, we should:
- Protect the democratic process by securing elections and ensuring that no fraud, hacking, foreign interests or any other improper interest influences the outcome of an election;
- Preserve and protect the people’s ability to write and pass their own laws through the ballot initiative process;
- Make the redistricting process nonpartisan so that voters pick their elected officials, not the other way around;
- Get dark money out of politics or otherwise require disclosure of election-related spending where we can;
- Ensure that everyone (including those who have previously been placed under a guardianship or convicted of a felony) has the right and ability to vote, through automatic voter registration (including pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds), by fighting voter suppression at every turn, and by either establishing the ability to vote by mail or by making Election Day a holiday;
- Ensure that every voter’s voice is heard through an open primary or ranked voting system; and
- Provide more support for candidates with strong grassroots support by further incentivizing and creating a matching public system for small-dollar contributions.
If we start with these seven steps and focus on creating and strengthening laws that root out corruption in elections and government, then we will go a long way toward ensuring that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Clarke Tucker was the Democratic nominee for Arkansas’s 2nd Congressional District in 2018. He represented House District 35 in the state legislature from 2015 to 2019. He is a practicing attorney in Little Rock
Turn Arkansas into a giant money-making carbon sink
By Johnnie Chamberlin
Arkansas was once almost entirely covered in forest, with much of the rest being prairie. Forests and native grasslands both store much more carbon than land used for typical forms of industrial agriculture (which are often net sources of carbon emissions).
In the 1900s, millions of acres of bottomland hardwood forest were cleared in Arkansas for rice and soybean production, much of this as recently as the ’70s.
Reforesting these areas and adjusting practices on existing tree plantations, rice fields, pastures and other agricultural lands could make Arkansas a leader in carbon sequestration. Arkansas rice farmers are already reaping rewards from California’s cap-and-trade program. As the rest of the world catches on to the urgent need for action on climate change, more countries and states will be pricing or capping carbon and the market for carbon drawdown and storage will grow rapidly. Given the recent plunge in soybean exports and prices, this opportunity couldn’t come at a better time.
In addition to sucking down tons and tons of earth-cooking, ocean-acidifying carbon, converting marginal soybean fields back to bottomland hardwood forest would also boost recreational resources in the state by improving habitat for fish, ducks, deer and other wildlife.
Come on, Arkansas, make money, create jobs and #ActOnClimate.
Johnnie Chamberlin worked as a research fellow for Project Drawdown and researched many land-use solutions, including afforestation and reforestation. “Drawdown” is now a New York Times Bestseller and was the No. 1 best-selling environmental book of 2017. He also spent time as the director of conservation at Audubon Arkansas, where he helped design and implement multiple reforestation, habitat improvement and stream restoration projects in Arkansas.
Sterilize pets and strays to keep shelters empty
By Brittany Wood
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 6.5 million cats and dogs enter animal shelters nationwide each year. Of those, 1.5 million of them will never make it out: They’re euthanized.
Pet overpopulation isn’t a new problem. It’s so common, you might even pass a stray dog or cat on the street without thinking twice about it. But for those of us involved in the animal welfare community, it’s all we think about. We ask ourselves, “What could have been done?” The answer is simple: spay and neuter.
Sterilizing your pets is one of the most important ways to care for them. Sterilized pets are less likely to run away, display aggression, mark inside the house and develop health problems, including certain infections and some forms of cancer. But sterilizing your cat or dog isn’t just a gift to them — it’s also a gift to the community. Spaying and neutering your pets means they can’t produce unwanted litters, which often end up dying on the streets or being euthanized in shelters.
The math is simple. It only takes two unsterilized pets to create a litter of unwanted offspring. If there’s an unsterilized female dog in your neighborhood, when that female becomes pregnant — and she will — she can give birth to up to eight puppies. In the best-case scenario, those puppies will go to a shelter or rescue, where they will create a strain on the already scarce resources available. The shelter or rescue, which might be struggling just to keep the lights on, will then be responsible for the food, medicine and veterinary visits of those eight puppies until they’re adopted to good homes — or until the shelter gets too crowded. In the worst-case scenario, those puppies will become strays whose lives are spent scrounging for food and dodging oncoming traffic.
So, why doesn’t everyone spay and neuter their pets? The answer we hear most often is that it’s just too expensive. In some cases, spaying and neutering a pet can cost upward of $200.
Should something this important to your pet and your community require you to take out a credit card? Absolutely not. That’s why Central Arkansas Rescue Effort (CARE) for Animals, an animal rescue based in Little Rock, established the Paws in the Clinic program to help low-income pet owners sterilize their pets. Qualified pet owners receive vouchers redeemable at one of our nearly 20 participating clinics all over Arkansas, which subsidize the cost of spay or neuter procedures. In some cases, pet owners can have their pets sterilized for as low as $15. This program is made possible through the generous support of the Arkansas Animal Rescue Foundation. We hope to continue to help our community by providing low-cost spay and neuter options to pet owners in need. To find out more about the Paws in the Clinic program or donate to CARE’s spay/neuter fund, visit our website.
In addition to CARE’s Paws in the Clinic program, low-cost spay/neuter clinics are held regularly at organizations like Arkansans for Animals, Spay Arkansas, Companions Spay and Neuter Clinic, Feline Rescue and Rehome and several local shelters and humane societies.
If you would like to help prevent the unnecessary suffering of the 1.5 million cats and dogs euthanized each year, please consider donating to the spay/neuter funds of local low-cost clinics, rescues, shelters and humane societies. Every dollar makes a difference.
Brittany Wood is the volunteer coordinator for CARE for Animals. If you are interested in adopting, fostering or volunteering, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sponsor the Little Free Pantry for a month
By Ginger Beck
Little Free Pantries have been growing at a rapid pace across the nation, providing a small stockpile of commodities for someone who may need a little something to get them to the next paycheck — a hungry child after school or someone who needs a quick tube of toothpaste they can’t afford at the moment. I was inspired by the Little Free Pantry in Fayetteville to start the Little Free Pantry Little Rock, and it’s been in operation for two years inside Dunbar Garden. Though wonderful programs are in place — like The Van and others — to help the unsheltered community and others who are severely struggling to make ends meet, the pantry’s stockpile ebbs and flows right now.
We have a standing Amazon wish list for people who don’t have time to run to the store and drop off items, as well as a Paypal account for monetary donations, but our primary goal is for the pantry to be truly self-sufficient, and we’d like to keep the Little Rock Free Pantry a grassroots effort, informal and easy.
If one or two businesses could donate $20-$40 worth of food every couple of weeks (save those receipts for taxes!) or sponsor the pantry for an entire month at a time (we would celebrate and name those sponsors online, of course!), the pantry would stay stocked.
Sometimes donors can’t make really big gestures or spend lots of money. And, sometimes people in need find solace in the anonymity of going to the pantry and taking what is needed; no questions asked. People who have used the pantry in the past even come back with donations and paid their blessings forward.
If you or your business or organization are interested in supporting the Little Free Pantry Little Rock, message the LFP on its Facebook page, or make a Paypal donation to email@example.com.
Ginger Beck is an educator, a tattoo artist, the director of the Little Free Pantry Little Rock and co-author of “Abandoned Arkansas: An Echo from the Past.”
Stage an annual festival of Arkansas playwrights
By Judy B. Goss
Theater in Arkansas is thriving. Although Central Arkansas was shocked by the suspension of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre’s 2018-19 season, its quick rebound heartens local theater artists who strive to maintain a wide array of excellent stage shows for local audiences. Varied venues exist in the metropolitan area, from The Rep’s Equity house, the Robinson Center Performance Hall and Murry’s Dinner Playhouse to those of numerous community and educational theater groups that present performances aligned with their missions. On these stages, many local actors, some of whom hold Equity cards, have delighted spectators for years under the guidance of excellent directors. Actors, directors and audiences also have applauded industrious producers, designers, crew volunteers, local businesses, season ticket holders and patrons who continue supporting the ancient magic of live theater into 21st century Arkansas. In the midst of theatrical activity, staged readings and productions of Arkansas playwrights’ scripts have risen in popularity. The time is right to create an annual festival of Arkansas playwrights.
Opportunities for script development exist in the state, but a festival’s producing four to six full-length scripts at different hosting theaters in Central Arkansas throughout the year would take playwrights’ work to the next level: full production. Models of festivals for new plays throughout America can guide designing processes that meet the needs of host theaters, patrons, volunteers and theater artists who make plays happen, as well as playwrights. “Arkansas Playwrights” can include those living in the state or those natives who live elsewhere.
Stages will light up with diversity because there is no single “Arkansas Voice.” Play topics and settings can be unlimited, too, allowing the writers’ imaginations full range. There is cross-fertilization of vision, talent and dedicated effort among theater artists. Already in Central Arkansas, theater artists continue to meet new colleagues, deepen friendships, sharpen talents and expand vision, circulating show to show and place to place. Often, audiences expand, too.
If interested theaters of Central Arkansas can create a joint committee to produce an annual festival of Arkansas playwrights, all theater artists and theaters will benefit, and the larger community will as well. As entertaining stories of the human condition unfold before them on stage, audience imagination, knowledge, camaraderie and empathy will expand in new ways, thanks to Arkansas playwrights.
Last fall The Rep offered a pilot program, Plays in Progress at The Rep, which staged monthly play readings in The Rep Annex. Open auditions led by The Rep staff brought together actors to present scripts by three local playwrights: Werner Trieschmann (“Unemployment”), me (“Life Science”) and John Haman (“Blood Moon”). Box proceeds benefited the Rep, and the playwrights gained creative support, a working space and responsive audiences, aiding their future revisions. The Dramatists Guild offers a more casual but ongoing program for playwrights in large metropolitan areas, the “FOOTLIGHTS Series.” DG representatives solicit and coordinate donated space from theaters for single-event play readings open to audiences with free admission. Such a model could be a starting point for putting more new plays by Arkansans on stages in the metropolitan area of Central Arkansas; a larger vision points to an exciting annual festival of Arkansas playwrights.
Judy B. Goss is a playwright and a retired theater educator who spent 17 years teaching at Parkview Arts/Science Magnet High School. Find her work at judybgoss.com.
Create a music academy for young people
I think it would be amazing to have a music academy for young creatives that focuses on the creation of music: recording, writing, song structure and music history. Emcee/educator Big Piph and I have conducted hip-hop workshops in Banjul Gambia, Mauritius and at many local schools, where we focus on teaching kids the basics of hip-hop: DJ-ing, emceeing and Grafitti, as well as the history of the B-Boy/Girl. We’ll be doing a version of our hip-hop academy for the ACANSA Arts Festival this year. I’ve seen these interactions with students build self-confidence, inspire newfound passions and give in-depth insight to those already interested in this cultural phenomenon, and I think a year-round academy would be incredible.
Ferocious is a producer/sound engineer in Little Rock who has conducted outreach programs for young people across the globe, using hip-hop as a tool to teach leadership, empowerment and collaboration.
Create regional consortiums for the arts
By Kate Sain
Central Arkansas is full of arts organizations working tirelessly to put on productions, concerts and events. What if we joined forces to share our resources? For a small nonprofit like Opera in the Rock, collaboration is key to our success. If every small theater or musical group is constantly trying to do things on its own, it makes it incredibly difficult, and expensive, to succeed.
Shared resources such as a warehouse for costume and prop storage and rental, set pieces, and even sound and lighting equipment that could be used by community theaters, high schools and larger organizations like The Rep would be a huge asset to the arts ecosystem in Little Rock and surrounding areas. It is incredibly difficult to piecemeal these sorts of things together when you are a small organization without your own facility.
Also, what about shared resources provided by a larger entity that includes things like HR and payroll services and even health benefits for employees of arts nonprofits? All could be provided under a shared arts consortium for the city. Something that would be incredibly helpful would be a community calendar accessed by these organizations so that no one is scheduling events at the same time. If we all work together, the arts will succeed and remain a vibrant part of our community and state.
Kate Sain is executive director of Opera in the Rock, Little Rock’s professional opera company. She has worked in many arts organizations in the New York City area, including a decade with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, as well as with Tony Award Productions, New York Stage and Film Company and Lincoln Center Inc.
By Lynn Foster
This time of year, I love to open my front door, step off the porch and stand next to my holly trees. They are in bloom; their tiny white flowers fill the air with a sweet scent. And busy among the flowers, the bees roam, stopping here and there to sip the nectar, while pollinating the flowers that will produce bright red berries in the fall.
I stand still, smell the flowers, and hear the buzzing of the insects as they fly around me. But it’s not like it used to be several years ago, when the buzzing was much louder and the bees were far more plentiful. Something has happened to the bees. My neighbor and I have a theory. She has a “bee tree” on her property — a tree where wild honey bees live — next to the county road. Three years ago, the county sprayed insecticide on the roadside. The year after that, I noticed hardly any bees. I’m glad that they seem to be slowly increasing in number again, which is evidence of a basic maxim about nature — it’s resilient, but only up to a point.
When we think of bees, we usually think of the European honey bee, Apis mellifera, which happens to be the state bee of Arkansas. Somewhat ironically, it’s an immigrant — Europeans brought Apis mellifera to the New World in the early 1600s, and the bees spread west with them. But there are 4,000 species of native bees in North America! And whereas honey bees are “eusocial,” living in colonies, with cooperative brood care, division of labor and reproduction and stores of food, almost all native bees are solitary and do not store surplus food.
When we think of pollination, we tend to think it’s performed solely by honey bees. But there are two types of pollination — pollination of agricultural plants and pollination of native habitat. According to the American Beekeeping Federation, honey bees contribute nearly $20 billion to the value of U.S. crop production. Almost 2 million colonies travel around the U.S. each year, pollinating more than 100 types of crops like apples and broccoli.
Native plants, of course, have grown here for millions of years, long before the arrival of the honey bee. About 80 percent of flowering plants are pollinated by native bees. There is crossover, with both native and honey bees pollinating the same species, and studies have shown that some plants do better with a variety of pollinators. Most bee species, including honey bees, are pollen generalists, and can drink the nectar of a variety of flowers. But some are pollen specialists and must have specific plant species nearby in order to live. For each species of bee, there are species of plants it cannot pollinate. For example, even the honey bee, one of the most general of pollinators, cannot pollinate tomatoes.
Native species of bees pollinate native plants. In fact, most wild plants worldwide need pollination to reproduce. You can see all sorts of news about the need for honey bees to pollinate agricultural crops. But each time natural habitat is destroyed and a new subdivision or store is built, we are killing wild bees by destroying their habitat, and degrading the environment just a little bit more. As the bees die, the plants they pollinate will die out as well, reducing food for other insects, birds and mammals.
How can you help bees? Many bees actually live in the ground. They like well-drained bare soil and mounds of earth. Other bees live in trees. Don’t cut down a dead tree — it can be habitat for wood nesting bees (as well as for numerous other species, including pileated woodpeckers!). Plant a pollinator garden with asters, false indigo, ironweed, milkweed, mountain mint and other natives. They will attract native bees. If you must have a lawn, mow as little as possible. If the county sprays your street and road with insecticide or mows bee habitat, call and request that it does not.
Are you interested in learning more? Check out the Xerces Society. It publishes a list of South Central Plants for Native Bees. The Arkansas Monarch Conservation Partnership publishes an extensive list of shrubs and plants that attract not only butterflies, but also bees. The University of Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service has information on how to attract native bees. May you have the pleasure of enjoying native plants in the company of bees!
Lynn Foster is an Arkansas Master Naturalist.
Eradicate Callery pear trees
By Elizabeth Shores
They seem to be everywhere, blanketing vacant lots and great swaths of roadside fields like dirty old quilt batting.
Cultivars of Callery (Pryus calleryana), or “Bradford” pear trees, bred to strengthen the trees trunks and branches, and Asian pears (P. betufolia) are a serious threat to our Arkansas woods and fields because they can hybridize with native trees and produce fertile fruit. Birds gobble their fruits (which are nothing like pears) and drop the seeds everywhere. The seedlings grow so fast, and multiply so rapidly, they crowd out the natural assortments of trees and understory plants and we are left with massive, thick stands of these non-native weed-trees. We lose entire communities of insects, birds and animals that depended on the natural ecosystems the Callery displaces.
Fayetteville has taken action: In April, the city gave one native tree (such as American plums, flowering dogwoods, Eastern redbud, hawthorn and serviceberry) to residents who cut down a Bradford pear on their property. (However, some Bradford pears are sterile, and cutting them down will not help the problem of invasive Calleries.)
We should rip out Callery/Bradford pear cultivars wherever they pollute the landscape and replace them with native grasses and trees.
Scientists with state and federal agencies already know how to do this. It is a big job but one that lends itself to government and nongovernmental collaboration and lots of involvement by park systems, golf and hunting clubs, farmers, gardener and students. Together we can:
- Collect and upload data about Bradford pear infestations so we know where to attack first (see eddmaps.org.);
- Identify and propagate the best native trees and grasses for restoration planting;
- Reward landowners for bulldozing Bradford pear infestations and restoring their properties;
- Recognize retailers and landscaping businesses that refuse to sell Bradford cultivars;
- Recognize homeowners who remove the trees and replace them with species that are valuable to wildlife;
I for one would gladly post my garden as “Callery-Free.” See the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States to learn more about the problem.
Elizabeth F. Shores of Maumelle is a writer and gardener. Her biography of an early Southeastern botanist, “On Harper’s Trail,” was published by The University of Georgia Press.