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MASTERSON ONLINE: Magazine cites hometown

by Mike Masterson | March 4, 2023 at 3:12 a.m.

Our state thankfully has many vibrant and active small and midsized communities that serve their citizens and visitors well in many ways.

Readers know how sold I am on my own hometown of Harrison because of the caring people who live here and all it has to offer for a scenic Ozarks community of just over 13,000 residents.

Others, from the Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission to statewide and national publications have increasingly recognized how dynamic this city truly is for its size, which doesn't leave me dangling alone on a limb as some kind of shameless cheerleading homer.

For instance, most recently, Harrison was named winner of Arkansas Business' 2022 Trendsetter Award in the category of Tourism Development/Creative Culture, making it one of our state's destination cities.

This award recognizes cities and towns that are establishing unique attractions, venues, museums and more to improve tourism and quality of life for those who live there.

Harrison has more than its share of all those, according to the nomination for this honor. Among them is Harrison's mural project "Natural State, Natural Art," initiated by Mary Beth Hatch, where wall murals adorn 19 large buildings showcasing the region's Native American heritage, its early history and events, and pure artistic imagination. More are planned.

There's also a multitude of parks and recreation projects and events, such as high school sports tournaments at upgraded facilities and several travel tournaments. In 2022, over 350 teams from 25 states used those facilities.

And while all those represent big pluses for Harrison, there is much more that made it the winner. Mayor Jerry Jackson noted that by "partnering with our local Rotary Club, the high school's EAST program, downtown business owners, and Explore Harrison, the city was able to install an all-inclusive playground for children of all abilities, complete with a splash pad, resurfaced tennis and basketball courts, a remodel of the city's swimming pool, and turfed baseball and softball infields."

Harrison also is home to a variety of events and attractions throughout the year, including the Arkansas Hot Air Balloon Championship, Arkansas Bluegrass Fiddlers Convention, Northwest Arkansas Bluegrass Festival, Fire in the Sky 4th of July Celebration, and a local tradition called the Crawdad Days Festival.

With the city's proximity to the Buffalo National River (America's first national river), visitors have easy access to outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing, fishing, biking, elk-watching and camping.

Large projects benefiting Harrison remain under construction. The new community and aquatic center is scheduled for completion early this summer. And Johnny Morris of Bass Pro Shop fame is busy creating his new outdoor tourism and conservation venue on the site of the former Dogpatch just 20 minutes south of town.

Situated in the heart of the picturesque Ozark Mountains, Harrison was previously featured in Where to Retire Magazine as one of the best retirement towns. During the 1970s the late famed Associated Press national feature writer and reporter Jules Loh came to Harrison and wrote an article about calling it quintessential small-town America.

And the Chamber of Commerce says it still is nationally recognized as one of the "Best Small Towns in America" with a downtown lake and renovated town square, complete with gazebos and hanging flower baskets maintained by local Master Gardeners.

There's a gravesite immediately alongside City Hall where it's noted a casket of "hate" is forever buried there. I know because I joined the former mayor in helping fill that hole one evening several years ago. The community's active Committee on Race Relations helped see that funeral service become a reality and the MLK Commission awarded the city with its coveted "Dream Keepers Award."

So, valued readers, if you've read this far, you probably know more about my hometown than you ever wanted to. But the takeaway for every community ought to be that Harrison hasn't achieved anything most every community of its size and smaller can't accomplish when its residents are solidly behind motivated leaders with common vision and a sense of caring.

White fences

After more than a year of declaring that all homeowners' white fences in Bella Vista had to be removed for violating the Cooper Community's Architectural Control Committee's (ACC) 2022 ban on having them, a circuit judge has dismissed that committee's resulting lawsuit against resident Nichole Young.

She was among several who refused to comply with what she saw as a needless and unjustified bureaucratic mandate on homeowners. After all, why should some committee select the color of anyone's fence?

Benton County Judge John Scott dismissed with prejudice the ACC's case against Young at the request of attorneys for both sides, which seems to imply this case can never be refiled and it's likely the white fences homeowners removed under duress before January 2022 will be restored.

Bella Vista resident Jim Parsons, long an outspoken chronic thorn in the side of the ACC explained how the controversy over white fences (of all things) developed Jan. 1, 2022, when the ACC declared all white fences would have to be removed or painted a different color of ACC's choosing. Those not filing to take their white fence down or obtaining a permit to paint their fence an approved color were subject to fines and perhaps a lawsuit.

He said this mandate was enforced by ACC employees locating white-fence violators, taking a photograph and submitting it to ACC headquarters. From there letters were sent to violators with a bill for $50 for the inspection and another $150 for attorney fees.

"On another day later there will be another inspection fee for the second inspection, etc. After several inspections, if the fence owner still refuses to comply, he or she will receive a summons to appear in court," Parsons said.

Parsons pointed to a Feb. 27, 2022, news article about the fence dispute in this newspaper in which Buddy Vernetti, then administrator for the ACC, was quoted saying that besides fences, there also would be no white houses in Bella Vista apparently because the powers that be felt "white was not a 'happy color'."

Several fence owners previously removed the white panels but left fence posts in place and are now planning to restore their original fence, Parsons said. "We expect to see new white fences popping up all over Bella Vista. This will be an expression of the Arkansas motto 'Regnat Populus' (The people rule)."

Parsons, who represents the Bella Vista Patriots organization, said that while other lawsuits remain pending over the fence issue, in light of the fact that attorneys for both sides sought and agreed with this dismissal, he'd be surprised if those legal actions now move forward. So will I.

I wonder if the employee who originally conceived of forbidding Bella Vista homeowners from having a traditionally American white fence (or home) still has his or her job. If not, I might consider buying 100 gallons or so of Sunshine White enamel and starting a fence-painting business perhaps called "Re-White Washing Bella Vista."

Seeking your input

Readers likely know of my ongoing efforts to replace our state's outdated "one bite" dangerous dog law with a statute that deters owners of large dogs from failing to safely restrain them from harming, even killing, people and their pets.

I've written about several cases of maulings in Arkansas and elsewhere, but would like to continually refresh that list since not all wind up in media headlines.

My quest is rooted in common sense and the Golden Rule: If you choose to own a large dog which history and research show are capable of inflicting injury or death on innocent people or smaller animals, it becomes your responsibility to keep the dog safely restrained, under possible penalty of a large fine and/or criminal negligence charge should they break restraint and cause such harm.

If you, a child, or relative have ever been the victim of such maulings and injuries, I'd appreciate a few paragraphs in an email explaining the who, what, when and where of your experience.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]

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