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The business of Fort Smith's heritage.

Fort Smith's past provides more than an identity and a unique quality of place--the city's history is an industry. Last year visitors to Sebastian County spent more than $44 million--an increase of 6 percent from the previous year. The Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism reports that person-trips in Sebastian County numbered more than 1 million, an increase of 3 percent from 2003.

"More people are visiting the Fort Smith area, and those people are spending more money," Claude Legris, director of the Fort Smith Advertising & Promotion Commission, explained. "We think the increase in visitors and spending represents a nationwide trend toward travelers who plan their trips around cultural and heritage attractions and events."

Fort Smith historic attractions are appealing to the same audiences the History Channel attracts. And the History Channel reaches more than 86 million homes and key demographics for age and household income. It's no accident that the History Channel has prominently featured the Fort Smith National Historic Site on a number of occasions.

"Americans are fascinated by history," Legris said, "and Fort Smith is well positioned to capture the Lucrative market for heritage tourism." "The Historic/Cultural Traveler, 2003 Edition" reports that 118 million travelers during the past year included culture on their trip. In fact, the publication reports that 30 percent of historic and cultural travelers chose their destination based on a specific event or activity.

Not only is the population of heritage tourists growing, the amount of money spent by this category of visitors surpasses that of the average tourist. According to the 2001 Travel Industry Association of America study, cultural and heritage visitors stayed longer at their destinations and spent an average of $623 per trip, as compared with $457 for average U.S. tourists.

Legris notes that Fort Smith offers a variety of historic and cultural attractions. "Judge Isaac C. Parker wanted to 'economize' executions, so he asked his hangman to design gallows to accommodate more than one man at a time," he said. "The History Channel featured the judge and the invention in one of its programs--Wild West Tech, hosted by David Carradine. I'm told the 'Hanging Judge' episode is one of the networks most popular."

Judge Parker's gallows still stand at what is now the Fort Smith National Historic Site. Inside the one-time federal courthouse, a recent $4 million renovation has restored the judge's courtroom. Exhibits tell the story of a Lawless Indian Territory tamed by Judge Parker and a motley cast of characters who became deputized U.S. marshals.

In fact, Fort Smith is one of three finalists for a U.S. Marshals Museum. The facility would attract visitors from all over the world and would house artifacts and interactive displays designed to tell the story of the U.S. Marshals Service. A site selection committee for the nation's oldest law enforcement agency hopes to make a final decision sometime this summer.

Meanwhile, the summer months are busy for Miss Laura's Visitor Center--a museum and headquarters for the Fort Smith A&P. Until the mid-1950s, the building operated as a bordello, or "social club." Once visitors take the grand tour and pick up brochures about other attractions, they board a wheeled trolley that takes them on a driving tour of Fort Smith landmarks. The tour includes the National Historic Site, the Fort Smith Museum of History, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, the Belle Grove Historic District, the childhood home of World War II hero William O. Darby and several other historic homes.

In addition, the region attracts a significant number of Civil War historians and reenactors. Massard Prairie Battlefield is among the best-preserved Civil War battle locations in the nation.

The business of heritage tourism continues to grow. In fact, the Fort Smith National Historic Site and the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith provide a degree in historic interpretation. Graduates are prepared to work in historic sites and museums of all kinds--those run by private organizations, state parks and by the National Park Service. The UAFS program is the only one of its kind in the nation.

Fort Smith's past is playing a key rote in the region's future and is best summed up with the A&P Commission's slogan, "Where the New South Meets the Old West."

For more information about Fort Smith attractions, log on to


A&M Scenic Railway

Belle Grove Historic District

Classic Carriage Tours

Clayton House

Fort Smith Air Museum

Fort Smith Little Theatre

Fort Smith Museum of History

Fort Smith National Historic Site

Fort Smith Trolley Museum

Grand Slam Fun Center

Miss Laura's Visitor Center & Miss Laura's Players

Oak Cemetery

The Darby House

U.S. National Cemetery

Vaughn-Schaap House (Art Center)

Heritage Tourism Study Data

* Of 92.7 million adult travelers who included a cultural event on their trip, 32 percent (29.6 million travelers) added extra time to their trip because of a cultural, arts, heritage or historic activity or event.

* Of the 29.6 million travelers who added time:

43 percent added part of one day

31 percent added one extra night

19 percent added two extra nights

7 percent added three or more extra nights because of this activity or event.

* Travelers who include cultural events are different from the typical U.S. traveler They are more likely to have:

Household incomes above $50,000 (46 percent versus 40 percent)

Completed college (33 percent versus 28 percent)

Source: Partners in Tourism and Travel Industry Association of America
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Publication:Arkansas Business
Geographic Code:1U7AR
Date:May 2, 2005
Previous Article:Strategy calls for building a city of neighborhoods.
Next Article:Growth validates decision to turn UA-Fort Smith into four-year institution.

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