November 16, 2010

Downtown Little Rock, Arkansas

We have been staying at an RV park in Downtown Little Rock right on the Arkansas River. It is the perfect location in a really nice little city. I did not know anything about Little Rock before arriving, but this is a really liveable city with excellent things to do. You can tell they have done a great deal of redevelopment in recent years. They have cleaned things up, built wonderful riverside parks on both sides of the river, have a pedestrian bridge (and another in the works), and even a new street car.

The street car system was just opened about 6 years ago. It runs all day until late in the evening, 7 days a week. It does a loop through downtown North Little Rock, across the river, another loop through Downtown Little Rock, and then a spur to the Clinton Presidential Library.

Hilina had a great time riding the trolley around town. These streetcars were custom built by retired cabinet makers of cherry and maple wood. They are electric run and run on tracks right on the streets. But, they were built in the style of the early 20th century. They are really cheap too. Only 50 cents per ride and kids are free.
A view of downtown and Riverside Park from the trolley bridge
In fact, I can say after driving and walking around the city for 3+ days that this is a city I could live in. I am not saying I will live here. Just that if those circumstances ever arose, I could handle it!
Trolley tracks downtown near River Market
Right downtown they have the River Market, which is similar to the Pike Place Market in Seattle, but significantly smaller. That being said, it is a great addition to the downtown scene. They were putting up an ice rink for the holidays right on the river and they have a daily farmers market behind it all summer long.

Right next to the River Market is the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Nature Center. One of eight  such facilities in the state, it is a free museum/education center providing displays, real animals, and information about each of Arkansas' ecosystems. These facilities, as well as, Arkansas' wonderful state parks are paid for by a 0.12% sales tax that voters passed 8 years ago. Apparently, it is one of those classic situations where there was major opposition to the tax and it barely passed. But after it did, the state has done such a wonderful job with it that it is extremely popular and no would ever go back (according to the director of the facility I talked to).

Arkansas is one of only three states in the country with a similar state park/game commission sales tax. As such, we've noticed that Arkansas has some of the best state parks we have ever seen. They are well maintained, great campgrounds, great trails, all have really nice visitor centers, and every one of them are free and camping is extremely reasonable.

There is also a great little park along the river, with playgrounds, a 17-mile bike trail that makes a loop, and interpretive displays about the history of the city from 17th century explorers and Native Americans, to the Civil War, to today.

You can even see the original "Little Rock". It is located almost directly under the pedestrian "Junction" bridge. Little Rock was significant because it was the first rocky outcropping scene by explorers coming up the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers. Yes, there is a "big rock" further up. The little rock is much smaller today, as it has been carved up over the years for shipping access and bridge construction. But, now they have preserved the last portions for display.

The Old State House, the original capitol before the current one was built in 1911, is now a museum. It was where Bill Clinton announced his candidacy for president in 1991 and where his election night celebration occurred in 1992. If you remember them dancing to "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow" with Fleetwood Mac on election night, this is where it happened.

Current State Capitol

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