March 30, 2011 Edition

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Championing our
unique attributes

John Bland
Publisher

A spring break road trip across several southeastern states reinforced to us the sameness of parts of many cities in the U.S. To clarify, this sameness refers to the chain restaurants, retail stores and hotels that are usually found in newer, outlying areas of cities. In these areas, it seems you could be in any number of cities, with only slight variations in the mix of businesses.

The issue is not chains or franchises, because knowing what to expect at these establishments is often a good thing. However, this sameness underscores the importance of developing those attributes that are unique to our area. Tourists and visitors are obviously looking for attractions that are unique and different.

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Thankfully, a number of our community-minded citizens are well aware of the need to develop our uniqueness. The Powhatan Courthouse State Park is a fine example of preservation of a once busy 1800s river port town, with the focal point being the restored 1888 courthouse, as well as the two-room schoolhouse and other buildings. The new Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives building at Powhatan that opened just this month only adds to the appeal of Powhatan for historians, educators and genealogists. Chamber of Commerce members learned Thursday that the archives facility has already had visitors from several states. (See page one story.)

The Clover Bend Historic Preservation Association has also preserved a cluster of historic buildings, including the school and more recently a model homestead.

Organizers and leaders of the Downtown Walnut Ridge organization know the value of preserving and restoring the historic downtown buildings. In April of 2010, the Walnut Ridge Commercial Historic District was one of 10 Arkansas properties approved for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. Downtown Walnut Ridge, in conjunction with the Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, is part of the Arkansas Downtown Network, an arm of the Main Street Arkansas program, whose approach to downtown revitalization, focuses on organization, design, promotion and economic restructuring.

Downtown Jonesboro has seen incredible revitalization in the past 20 years as the number of restaurants, art galleries, retail businesses, offices, apartments and condos have proliferated.

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The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Tourism Committee is also capitalizing on two projects that will encourage tourists to stop in our area. A guitar plaza is planned to highlight Lawrence County's heritage as part of the Rock 'n' Roll Highway 67. Another project will commemorate the Beatles' September 1964 visit to Walnut Ridge Airport's Swindle Field. This is a metal sculpture of The Beatles "Abbey Road" album cover that has been fully funded and is now being built by Iron Metal Works and West Machine Shop.

Last but not least, is the Wings of Honor Flying School Museum, also located at the Walnut Ridge Airport. This museum is preserving the history of the World War II airbase, which is now our airport. While at the airport, visitors can also have the unique experience of dining in a Southwest Airlines Boeing 727 at the Parachute Inn restaurant.

Each of these projects is unique. I believe they are vital to our future and that more of us should join in the efforts.

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