Approximately four years ago, a group called Saline Crossing Regional Park & Recreational Area was formed with the purpose of saving the Old Saline River Bridge in Benton and creating a public area for residents to enjoy the scenery at the river.
Recently the group dedicated two new amenities at the river that will eventually for the base of expanded recreational activities in the area.
Saline Crossing President Lynn Moore told members of the organization on Thursday that, due to a $2,000 GIF grant from state Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton, two handicap-accessible picnic tables have been placed on land owned by Saline Crossing near the Old River Bridge.
One table is located on the Haskell side of the river with the other on the Benton side. Both tables are placed on 4-inch thick concrete pads with ramps for wheelchair access.
Moore thanked Hammer for facilitating the community in obtaining the grant that made the tables possible. Moore also thanked Steve Carlton for spending "countless hours on his tractor clearing out the overgrowth and brush from the area" where both tables were placed. Carlton also prepared the pad locations for both tables.
Hammer noted, "I can see what is happening here and how it could be a tremendous draw for residents in the county."
Moore added, "The whole concept of a recreational location here could not have happened except for the generous volunteer spirit contributions of Bill White" who donated at least five acres of land underneath the bridge and additional areas on both sides of the bridge. It is on the land on both sides of the bridge upon which the tables are located.
When completed, Moore says the area "is an absolutely gorgeous place" and "this will be a location for family-oriented recreation."
The Arkansas Game & Fish Commission has expressed interest in assisting the Saline Crossing group, specifically in the implementation of a handicap-accessible platform to provide stream side fishing for individuals with disabilities.
Moore noted that the other Saline River access points in the county do not have facilities of this particular nature. With the donation of property at the location by White to Saline Crossing, Moore said the AG&FC became "immediately interested." The pad would be 6-inch thick concrete and approximately 50 feet long, but plans for the pad are still in the talk and conceptual phase.
Moore also thanked Doyle Ritchey for his time and monetary donation to Saline Crossing. He also expressed appreciation to all the members of the group for continued support to make the dream of a regional recreational area with additional picnic areas and a pavilion available.
The picnic tables were purchased at a cost of $1,000 each, with two accounting for the full $2,000 grant. Through a donation to the group, the cost for the concrete required to form the pad for each table was donated by Greg and Marilyn Brown.
Moore added, "I hope we have many more pads to pour in the future."
Local Boy Scouts have asked to do volunteer projects such as cleaning out the riverbank along walking paths from the picnic area westward toward the interstate.
Moore recognized Bishop Butler and noted that Butler had made a presentation to one of his classes at school about the history of the Saline Crossing area and what the group is doing to preserve the history of the area.
"Bishop has taken it upon himself to popularize the area," Moore said.
One issue with the area that Moore said has been a problem is individuals riding all-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, in the area.
"The only way that you could get into this area was trespassing. The only way in here, legally, is to have permission to go through the locked gate owned by the city."
With ownership of the land, gaining entrance to the land is now considered trespassing on private property. "No ATV" signs are posted.
Hammer informed the group that he owns an ATV. "You have to respect the land of the owner. In the Legislature, we passed a law that If a person is arrested trespassing on a four-wheeler, the first time is a warning. The second time, law enforcement can confiscate the ATV and the person has to go before a judge."
The Haskell Police Department, along with officers from the Arkansas Health Center, patrol the Haskell side of the river several times a day.
"This is just the beginning of many good things to come down here at Saline Crossing." said Moore. "This is one of the most beautiful places in the county and we can't wait to share it with the community."