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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/MELISSA GUTE About 90 people discuss in groups Thursday what they would like to see at Bella Vista Lake Park during a community meeting at Bentonville's Community Center. The Parks and Recreation Department held the meeting. Ecological Design Group and Watershed Resource Conservation Center are creating a plan for the 135-acre park.

BENTONVILLE -- The conversation wasn't about whether to rebuild the dam or restore the creek at Bella Vista Lake Park. Rather, it was about dreaming what could be on the 135-acre park if it was a "clean slate," as put by one city official.

Parks and Recreation Department officials gathered people to get ideas for the park during two meetings Thursday as the beginning steps for creating a plan for the area.

Moving Forward

Conceptual designs should take 30 to 60 days to complete. The committee meeting Thursday afternoon will review the designs and make minor changes. The modified designs will then go to the Parks Advisory Board before to going to the City Council in May or June. The council will make the decision on the project’s direction.

Source: Staff Report

The meeting Thursday afternoon city staff, City Council members Bill Burckart and Tim Robinson and members of Friends of Little Sugar Creek, a nonprofit organization advocating for dam removal and restoration of Little Sugar Creek. There were about 90 people who attended the community meeting in the evening.

The group Thursday afternoon brainstormed a list of nearly 30 features and amenities they could see at the park. They included everything from trails to a kayak park to environmental education areas to camping.

The water, no matter what form it takes, should be clean enough to swim in, said Robinson. He mentioned having an amenity like Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas, where the dedicated swimming area is fed from underground springs.

"Destination is the word that I keep thinking of," said Ron Miller, Friends member. "It's across the street from the first rest area in the Natural State."

Miller also suggested having a historical marker to honor the history of the location.

"I like everything that I heard," said Martin Smith, principal of Ecological Design Group, adding the firm is all about combining recreational features and an ecosystem in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

A $98,960 Walton Family Foundation grant is being used to pay Ecological Design Group and the Watershed Resource Conservation Center to develop the plan, which will include three scenarios: Rebuilding the dam, removing the dam or letting the stream flow past a side channel lake.

The goal is to have a plan providing all the information needed for the City Council to make an informed decision on the direction the park and water in it should take, said David Wright, Parks and Recreation director. The hope is to have the plan with the three options, and cost estimates for each, go before council in May or June.

"That will allow all of us to move on, to start moving on toward what that project will eventually be out there," Wright said.

City officials and Friends of Little Sugar Creek have met several times since April to discuss options for the lake, dam and creek. The dam failed in 2008, and its gates have remained open since flooding in December 2015.

The conversations began after the Friends frequently voiced opposition to the city's plan to rebuild the dam and filed a lawsuit last year against Army Corps of Engineers and Federal Emergency Management Agency to stop the dam from being rebuilt. The construction permit for the project expired in the spring, at which point the lawsuit was dismissed.

NW News on 01/19/2018

Print Headline: Officials, public explore Bella Vista Lake options

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