Experience Independence County Batesville AR – A Place Worth Visiting! By Kyle Christopher
When you first arrive in Independence County, you will take in views of the beautiful Ozark foothills, a region of rolling forest and pasture crisscrossed with rivers and creeks called “the gateway to the Ozarks.” This area of Northern Arkansas situated between ascending mountains to the west and delta lowlands to the east boasts some of the oldest history in the state as well as prestigious and cutting-edge industry, commerce, education, and recreation. Here, visitors find the oldest surviving city in Arkansas, Batesville, complete with picturesque Victorian homes and a thriving main street lined with historic buildings restored for modern shopping, dining, and entertainment. The area has long been home to farmers and small town charm, while simultaneously hosting a growing number of businesses and two colleges, which draw newcomers from around the globe, a unique combination for the size of the community. But what’s unique is what you will find when you venture into Independence County.
Batesville began planning over a decade ago to improve and maximize the city’s offerings,and the county is now in the middle of its IMPACT Independence County Strategic Plan. In 2016, the Chamber of Commerce created a new position to drive tourism into the future. In under two years, tourism director Kyle Christopher has done just that. Tourism spending is now over $50,000,000 annually in the county, and over $5 million increase from the previous year. Independence County experienced an 11% growth in tourism dollars from 2016 to 2017.
Much of this stems from growing interest in newly opened facilities and leisure opportunities in the area. New shops and restaurants are opening up each year. Batesville and the surrounding region continue to deliver for residents and visitors alike exceptional projects, like the addition of a state-of-the-art community and aquatic center, the restoration of one of Arkansas’ oldest and most loved theaters, the revival of the historic district into a pedestrian-friendly main street, commitment to high-quality sporting and outdoor recreation, and a variety of cultural events and yearly festivals.
There is no way to deny the magnificent natural landscape only steps away in Independence County. At a moment’s notice, you can go rock climbing at the Jamestown Crag, boating on the White River, paddling down Polk Bayou, or hiking and biking along one of the plentiful trails in the area. The Ozark foothills are a hunter and fisherman’s paradise. A short drive will take you to popular camp grounds or to explore the vast Blanchard Springs caverns. Lyon College’s LEAP (Lyon Education and Adventure Program) regularly engages students and the community to explore the area and participate in outdoor adventures on campus.
Batesville is an excellent place for sports enthusiasts. With multiple high school, college, and local leagues, the community offers a variety of facilities and hosts tournaments. The multi-million-dollar Community Center and Aquatic Park that opened last year serves individuals and organizations alike. Visitors need only pay a small fee to enjoy the fantastic Aquatic Park, which features a range of pools, water slides, and a lazy river. Even the tiniest visitors can enjoy a pool and splash area designed for children. Golfers coming to Batesville can pick between two separate golf courses located in the city. As home to NASCAR hall of famer Mark Martin, racing has become part of the identity of Batesville. Visitors can catch a race at nearby Batesville Motor Speedway.
It truly is remarkable how much can be found in the charming, Southern town. Often compared to Mayberry a la Andy Griffith, the city is known for its safety and friendliness. No visit to Batesville would be complete without a stroll through the newly revitalized historic district. Main Street Batesville has worked with other groups to transform the once sleepy downtown into a stunning hot spot for commerce and entertainment. Past the bright, cheerful colors of treasured Victorian-erahomes, century-old trees that border Batesville’s main street, and stately historic churches, you will emerge onto a bustling modern streetscape. There are shops for clothing, furniture, antiques, books, jewelry, sporting goods, luxury items, and more, including art galleries and a pottery studio. The downtown area offers coffee shops, casual eateries and upscale dining, aspecialty frozen yogurt spot, and a brand new food truck park. There are public parks which act as gathering spots for locals, live shows, and farmer’s markets. The area draws patrons of all ages, from seniors to young families to college students. At the end of the street sits the beloved Melba Theater,which screens movies at $4 a ticket, and Marshall Dry Goods, a favorite of crafters since 1944. Main street captures the heart and soul of the region with its nostalgic roots intermingled with a determination to become a leader in innovation and cultural advancement.
Still, there is more to see. Independence County offer various museums, performance venues like UACCB’s Independence Hall, much more shopping and dining, and a busy schedule of activities all year long. You won’t want to miss the spectacular display of Christmas lights shown in December’s White River Wonderland, which drew more than 120,000 visitors last year. The annual Scottish Festival held on Lyon College’s campus in the spring celebrates the region’s Scottish heritage with a myriad of games, demonstrations, and vendors. Artoberfest brings out artists and live music in the open air of Main Street every fall. This is only a sampling of the array of experiences available here in Independence County.
www.experienceindependence.com has a full community calendar of events and more information about the area.
Ginger Smith joined OGTC in 2014 as a volunteer, and has lived in this area since 1972 when she moved to be near her parents, the late Doss and Vivian Burgess. Her late father was Independence County Appraiser and any time family, whether kids or grand kids, came to visit for even a short time, he would take them to A.D. Hill’s grocery store, and get them a soda pop and candy bar, see the talking bird there, and end up “checking out the great White River.” All the kids and grands have played on the banks there, picnicked, and played on the old train. Ginger is adamant, since she moved to Batesville, there is just no other place to raise a family. Her love for the area and desire to help promote it in her professional capacity led her to seek volunteering, and Charlie Morris, whom she met when she was a typesetter at the Daily Guard Newspaper, put her in touch with Cathy Drew, Executor Director of OGTC. She has been on board since then and says she has loved everything she has done and is proud to represent North Central Arkansas.
The last 20 years of her employment she worked for the late County Judge David Wyatt, West Elementary School Principal Jerry Harris, and Circuit Clerk Claudia Nobles and Judge John Kemp. At the Guard Office she says she made friends for a life time, and then the West Elementary teachers, students, and their families grew close to her forever. Her last job she was hired in a newly created position to collect felony fines and restitution. She was so proud that after three years she more than tripled the annual revenues that she retired! Her part-time retirement job was with the ortho docs, Drs. Allen and Angel where she also met many people from all over the area, and made another set of new friends! She is a published writer and has also written feature articles for the Batesville Guard TV Guide and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.
She has a daughter, Misty Long Sparks, son-in-law Dloyd Sparks, and three grands, Dalton Lee, Victoria Lynn and Anna Rose, who own her heart, and three more heartbeat grands, Nico and Corbin of Washington, and a late granddaughter, Ginger Savannah. Her late husband, Ken Smith, was the Batesville Postmaster.
Totally retired now, Ginger offers her time and writing abilities to OGTC as she travels around the state and visits with so many nice folks, writes reviews, and tries to be a worthy representative for Ozark Gateway Tourism. She is a people person who really cares for all God has blessed us with in our beautiful state of Arkansas in the United States of America.