I have always admired people with a vision who go to work to make their dream come true. In 1995, when the Government first started the process of turning back 7200 acres of what was then Fort Chaffee for civilian use I was appointed to be Greenwood’s representative to the LRA, which was the Local Redevelopment Authority. When I attended the very first meeting with the team from Washington, and I heard what turning back that land entailed I thought to myself, “No way will this ever work.” Was I ever wrong? I knew it would take several years for things to begin to come together. The Board spent countless hours going over all the rules and regulations for the development. I attended several meetings with the public at Charleston, Lavaca, Van Buren, Barling, Greenwood and Fort Smith. These meetings were to inform the citizens what was going to happen. We heard so many THEY said, HE said, and I heard things from the citizens about what was promised the families when they sold their land to the Government. Many months of searching court records were done before this land was turned back for civilian use. Deeds were researched from the sale of the land to the Government. This was before anyone in this area heard about the turn over land. I don’t think there was an area that the LRA did not inspect. I kept thinking there is no way this will ever happen. Was I wrong!
A short time ago I had the privilege of taking a bus tour of what has been done SO FAR. When Ivy Owen came on board as the FCRA Executive Director, a man with a vision, things really began to happen. I was amazed at the things that have been built not counting the many new houses. There are industries that are an asset to the entire area. When I was on the Board there was a land use plan that was to be followed. So many acres for industry, so many for housing, and so many for commercial. All one has to do is take the short cut to Greenwood through the area to see a lot that has been done.
When the new road is finished that takes you to the beautiful amphitheater I think that area will be a very popular place for weddings, family get together, and perhaps a few outdoor performances. It was built during the war years, some say by German prisoners. It was really in a bad shape when I saw it with the LRA. It is now beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. So far 6.0 miles of interstate 49 is under construction. That will lead to more industry coming to this area.
As we traveled through the surplus area with Ivy as our guide it was almost impossible for me to digest all the many things that are happening right now at Chaffee Crossing and what is still to come. For instance, I volunteer at the Barber Shop Museum when needed and I could not believe that we had 2,700 visitors last year. With the new signs on the interstate there have been many more visitors. I really like the History of Chaffee Display. It has pictures of some of the farm houses being moved from the area, the different Divisions that trained at Chaffee, as well as pictures of the German Prisoners, Vietnam Refugees, Cubans and Katrina victims. It is a very interesting place to visit. I am so proud that there are people like Ivy Owen who has a vision and the knowledge to make that vision happen. All this makes me realize how wrong I can be in my thoughts.