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Roadside Haven Kept Alive by Volunteers

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July 28, 2011 by wcobserver

Staff Photographer Brooke McNeely Galligan - Mark Cummings and a friend continue their ride along Arkansas 71 after stopping at the Brentwood Community Park to stretch their legs Monday in Brentwood. Many travelers stop at the park because its the last rest stop remaining between Fort Smith and Fayetteville.

By Susan McCarthy

A quiet band of volunteers works tirelessly behind the scenes. All day, every day, a steady stream of cars and trucks are lured off Hwy. 71 by a picturesque park full of shade trees and picnic tables that beckon drivers to take a short detour from their destinations. The drivers stop for different reasons, but most are oblivious to the community spirit that kept the Brentwood Community Park from being bulldozed and sold not so many years ago.

The Brentwood Rest Stop, as many locals still call it, was built in 1966 and operated by the state as a rest stop until 2001 when the Arkansas State Highway Commission decided to close the rest stop.

“Some Kansas City boys came down here and destroyed the restrooms,” said Beverly Stout of West Fork. “They ripped everything out, even the light fixtures out of the wall.”

Stout says I-540 had been completed by then and reduced traffic combined with the vandalism sealed the highway department’s decision to close the rest stop.

While discussions continued in Fayetteville about what might be done with the rest area, Stout says a Fayetteville newspaper reporter named Kirk Kramer came to Brentwood and began knocking on doors. His persistence found Troy and Beverly Stout and Dean and Sally Hughes. What followed, says Stout is three years of Quorum Court meetings and a lot of pleading to keep the rest stop open…and a lot of newspaper articles.

The rest area did reopen in 2002 in a partnership between the state and Washington County, but it wasn’t until Dec. 2004 that the current arrangement between community volunteers and the Washington County Quorum Court was sealed.

In a unique, grassroots agreement, an informal board of citizens that includes Judy Drummond, Dean and Sally Hughes, Rodney and Deborah Hughes, Art and Cathy Hughes, Don and Norma Seely and Beverly and Troy Stout assumed responsibility for the park and Washington County agreed to maintain the grounds keeping over the park’s five acres.
Upkeep, toilet paper and even the electricity are funded through resourceful means.

Art Hughes, who lives in Brentwood and is no relation to the other two Hughes families serving on the board, says donations and an annual fundraiser held at the park during Bikes, Blues and Barbeque funds soap, toilet paper and paper towels.
“We get donations throughout the whole year. There are people who are really generous.”

Art says Washington County pays for the electricity with proceeds earned in a water dispensing machine at the park, which sells filtered water for just 25 cents a gallon.

And the Washington County Sheriff’s Department uses its Trustees, or work-release inmates, to mow and trim the park once a week.
Board members clean the bathrooms and take out the trash as needed; the park is open every day of the year.
While the operation appears seamless now, there was a lot of upfront work to transform an aging rest stop into a community park.

“If it wasn’t for Rodney, we wouldn’t have this place,” said Art ,who along with Beverly Stout ,credit Rodney Hughes for obtaining about $95,000 in grants. “The state has been very good about giving us grant money and Rodney is very persuasive about getting money.”

Their first grant, which was received with the aid of Senator Sue Madison, gave the group a $75,000 start. With money and a new vision for a park, the group organized volunteers and spent countless hours making repairs. They also erected a large picnic pavilion that is outfitted with eight custom cedar picnic tables and a large grill. And log benches dot the landscape, strategically placed to take in the views of the West Fork White River.

A second grant for $20,000, says Art, funded a one-third mile walking trail that also runs along the river, which volunteers also built about two years ago.

“There are lots and lots of people that use the walking trail,” said Stout.

Throughout the process, Art says Rodney Hughes has been the force behind getting things done. Art said Hughes also serves as a boys scout leader and has enlisted his troop, #142, in many of the park’s projects along the way.

He said Rodney and his scout troop had just completed a large campsite complete with grill last fall, and were devastated when it was washed away during this springs’ flooding. He said over fifteen people gathered at the park during the flooding and just watched it wash away. Art says that Rodney and his scout troop plan to rebuild the campsite and hope to have it complete for Bikes, Blues and Barbeque. He said a bikers group from Fort Smith always stay in the park and have even been enlisted to help their annual fundraiser.

On most any weekend, Brentwood Community Park plays host to families and friends who use the parks many grills and picnic tables to gather or to take a dip in the river.

“Oh my goodness. My whole family would go down for picnics, anniversaries, birthdays,” said Stout who says she swam in the swimming hole and that Brentwood holds lots of good memories for her and her family.

“It was just a part of us,” she said and that’s why, in her mind, it’s been worth saving.

Brentwood Community Park

  • Open Every Day
  • Heavily shaded and located along West Fork White River
  • Offers filtered water for sale at 25¢a gallon
  • Pavilion available at no charge, reservations can be made at www.BrentwoodPark.us.
  • Picnic tables and grills throughout park
  • Only public restrooms between Fort Smith and Fayetteville
  • Still has a payphone
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1 comment »

  1. charlynn jenkins says:

    wow i did not know that was such a large place i just remember going there as a kid when we had to hall water. im now thanking i may have to take my boys up there and check it out….keep up the good work

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