Rex Nelson was the guest speaker at the annual Chamber of Commerce banquet in Camden two weeks ago.
His topic was jobs, economic development and population decline in South Arkansas. He explained that the old way of thinking was to build industrial parks and attract large companies, and the people would follow. That is not what makes millennials tick today; they have choices. The path to economic development is attracting people. They first move to their community of choice that has amenities, and then look for a job.
El Dorado Festivals and Events (also known as the Murphy Arts District) has got it right — attracting people. Top five amenities attracting young educated millennials generally are schools, health centers, shopping centers, trails and open spaces, and education. Bike routes and jogging trails are usually ranked as the No. 3 attraction on any list of amenities in the top 10 best cities to live.
The 2-1/4 mile existing walking and jogging trail at the Lions Club golf course is heavily used, surprising some city leaders. The El Dorado City Council voted two weeks ago to fund the El Dorado-Union County Recreation Complex with $2.8 million to complete Phase I of a $7 million upgrade. The money is coming from the 1 percent city sales tax.
Two years ago, the City Council adopted a Pedestrian and Bicycle Trail Master Plan, but the city has yet to complete any new trails. The Parks and Playgrounds Commission has not endorsed any.
El Dorado has two routes on the drawing board. Almost three years ago, the city received grant for $500,000 to build a 2-mile additional trail in area of 19th and Champagnolle Road to the Union County softball complex and back, but implementation has not started. Second is a trail at the El Dorado High School along the newly build extension to Hillsboro, but implementation has not started. Both projects are funded.
In July 2018, I received a phone call from Ammen Joran (city planner for Ruston, Louisiana). He wanted to explore the possibility of building a pedestrian and biking trail along the Rock Island trail between Ruston and El Dorado. I explained that I was busy with local projects, but I was very interested. After several meetings, and raising $16,000 for the phase one feasibility study, the project is off to a good start. We are calling it the Rock Island Greenway. Ruston Mayor Ronnie Walker has been very aggressive building trails, achieving 3 miles in three years in city limits.
El Dorado needs to be more aggressive with the bike and jogging route program. Destination trails are more popular than circle routes. Bicycle and jogging routes are one of those “quality of life” issues, hard to measure and usually an indirect benefit. But they are necessary to growing a community.
The El Dorado Parks and Playground Commission will convene at City Hall at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for a public hearing. Attend and let your city leaders and city council members know your recommendations.
The city has the resources to implement the master bicycle and pedestrian trails program, but your city leaders need to know they have your support. So joggers, bikers, walkers and dog walkers, this is your chance to voice your opinions and ideas. The commission has said they intend to base the funding request on suggestions from the people who use the parks.
The squeaky wheel gets the oil. Let’s help MAD with their master plan.
Thanks to the El Dorado City Council, Union County Quorum Court, County Judge Mike Loftin and Fifty for the Future for their financial support.
Billy E. Blann is a member of the El Dorado City Council and represents Ward 1.