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The Group Travel Leader Going on Faith Select Traveler

Fort Smith, Arkansas’ Frontier 

When you check out its location on a U.S. map, Fort Smith, Arkansas, might seem a bit too far east to be considered part of the Wild West. But in the prime days of the nation’s westward expansion, it sat at the edge of the frontier. Fort Smith played a major role in the country’s history.

Located near the Oklahoma border, the city began, as its name indicates, as a 19th-century fort. Later, it became a major law-enforcement center. The U.S. Marshals Service operated out of Forth Smith, where the rulings of Judge Isaac C. Parker drew national attention.

Awareness of that history has carried over to the present, where the city stands as a modern-day descendent of those heady days, according to Claude Legris, executive director of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Lots of people wouldn’t regard us as typically Western, but this city actually played a major role in frontier times,” he said. “Today we lean heavily on our cultural heritage.”

The city of nearly 90,000 can be a great location for meetings, Legris said. He noted that the area’s colorful history is only part of the story.

“It’s a modern town with a cool downtown area,” he said. “We have a lot of attractions.” He said visitors enjoy everything from authentic old-time train excursions to local restaurants and nightlife.

Along with affordability, Fort Smith’s central location is a plus. “We’re nicely located almost in the center of the country,” Legris said. “And there is a family-oriented atmosphere.“

The city is undergoing a number of significant improvements.

“Renovation is the key word here,” Legris said of a $10 million water park and upgrades to the downtown area, among other enhancements. Still, the Western theme continues to be a major part of the area’s identity and one to which visitors favorably respond.

“People are always amazed once they come here and experience the product,” he said. “We have a high rate of return business.”

Hotel Choices

The Executive Hotel at City Center is conveniently attached to the Fort Smith Convention Center. The hotel complements the convention center space with its own 11 meeting rooms. The 17,000 square feet of total space includes a spacious ballroom.

Located across from the convention center, the Courtyard by Marriott Fort Smith features four meeting rooms with a combined 2,500 square feet of space. The largest accommodates 100 in a conference setup or 110 theater style.

For smaller groups, Hampton Inn Fort Smith provides two meeting rooms with 930 square feet of combined space. The larger room accommodates up to 50.

After-Hours Activities

The Arkansas and Missouri Railroad offers special passenger-train services with trips around the region. Travelers enjoy excursions in refurbished antique coaches. Some go as far back as 1917, and others include a 1940s caboose and a 1950s vintage parlor car.

For corporate team building or just an evening out, ClueMasters Live Escape Rooms offers live-action gaming. Participants work together to find clues and solve puzzles to escape the room within a 60-minute time frame.

At Painting With a Twist, even the least experienced artist can tackle creating a painting in a single setting. Groups of 60-plus can be accommodated.

Meeting Spaces

The Fort Smith Convention Center offers a 40,000-square-foot exhibit hall and eight meeting rooms, seating from 30 to 180. Two rotundas also accommodate meetings and receptions, and a performing arts center with seating for 1,300 hosts concerts, presentations and more.

 Home of the Arkansas-Oklahoma State Fair and other events, Kay Rodgers Park offers an expansive expo center with 24,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space. It can be divided into three areas of from 5,000 to 12,000 square feet and seats 400 at tables or 1,500 theater style. An open-air arena has seating for up to 9,000 people.

Alternative Venues

Along with an outdoor amphitheater, Riverfront Park has an events building with two 1,170-square-foot meeting rooms that seat 50 to 85 people each. It also features a glass pavilion that accommodates up to 270.

In addition to serving as an entertainment center, the MovieLounge offers two state-of-the-art cinemas. Each seats 80 and can also be used for lecture-style meetings and events. A total of 18,124 square feet of event space is available.

Reopening in November after extensive renovations, the city’s historic stone Masonic Temple offers 53,000 square feet of space. Along with three large banquet halls, there is a full auditorium that seats 1,200. 

Great Outdoors

As a family and community fishing lake, Carol Ann Cross Lake is regularly stocked with catfish and trout. It also contains bream, largemouth bass and striped bass. A fishing pier for persons with disabilities is available.

For ambitious anglers, locks and dams along the Arkansas River provide access to some of the country’s best fishing. Pools are stocked with a variety of sport fish, and fishing tournaments are common.

At the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, located on 170 acres of attractive land, visitors can enjoy checking out nature exhibits, walking trails and canoeing on Lake Wells.

For History Lovers

The Fort Smith Museum of History boasts approximately 40,000 artifacts from the city’s past. Exhibits cover the original 1817 military fort, the World War II Darby’s Rangers that became today’s Army Rangers, a look at a small frontier town and the area’s African-American history. 

The Belle Grove Historic District is a 22-square-block area that has been entered into the National Register of Historic Places. A number of restored homes show 130 years of varying architectural styles. Several homes are available for tours.

The Fort Smith Air Museum features 64 display cases on the area’s pioneer and military aviators.

Fort Smith, Arkansas

Location: Western Arkansas

Access: Fort Smith Regional Airport, Interstate 40, Interstate 540

Major Meeting Spaces: Fort Smith Convention Center, Kay Rodgers Park, Executive Hotel at City Center

Hotel Rooms: 2,700

Off-site Venues: Riverfront Park, MovieLounge

Contact Info:

Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau