The National Endowment for the Arts gave a $40,000 grant to begin a feasibility study for the project

A major milestone was reached in the development of the proposed water garden in Cleburne County this past week.  County Judge Jerry Holmes announced that the project was awarded a $40,000 grant by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for feasibility studies and plan design.  The award is a major accomplishment by Holmes, who spearheaded the resurrection of the project that was approved 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy.


The University of Arkansas Community Design Center in Fayetteville will take the lead on the project in an effort to bring this grand project to fruition.   The Community Design Center is an outreach of the Fay Jones School of Architecture.  They will be joining Marlon Blackwell Architect and Ecological Design Group, Inc. for the project.


As reported by The Sun-Times previously, the project was given the green light by Kennedy upon leaving the dedication of the Greers Ferry Dam in 1963.  Land was earmarked near the Fish Hatcheries to develop the 300-acre water and botanical garden.  With the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas a month later, the project languished as President Lyndon Johnson increasingly focused on his larger domestic agendas and, as time went on, the prolonged Vietnam War. 


Holmes believes the water and botanical garden will reignite tourism in the Greers Ferry Lake area, which has seen significant decline in recent years.  “We have got to do something to bring a portion of those people back,” said Holmes.


According to information provided by The Community Design Center, the original plans that were drafted by famed architect and Arkansas native Edward Durrell Stone will be updated to 21st century standards and will be adjusted to account for the fact that the project will now cover 170 acres rather than the originally proposed 300.


The $40,000 grant from the NEA will be combined with $60,000 in matching funds.  The Arkansas Natural Resources Commission provided $30,000 of the matching funds and District 19 State Senator Missy Irvin through General Improvement Funds (GIF) gave the rest. 


According to The Community Design Center, the “development of programming and operations, as well as design criteria, is scheduled to take place between July and December.  Plans for next year include development of park design master plan, finalization of design recommendations and the master plan, and completion of the feasibility report.”


Once this stage of the project is finished, the next hurdles will be approval from the appropriate agencies and funding.