Fort Smith named Top True Western Town of 2013

When the Fort Smith Advertising and Promotion Commission was established almost twenty five years ago, the staff faced the daunting task of creating an image and reputation (the term used in the industry these days is “brand”), that would attract individuals and groups to enjoy the local hospitality and “grow” the economy through tourism.  Fortunately very conscious decisions were made to “brand” Fort Smith as a community that prized its colorful and historic frontier past. 

Slogans such as “Fun on the Frontier” and “Live the History” invited visitors to explore our past while enjoying the many features that made Fort Smith an economical and family friendly destination.  The current slogan “Where the New South meets the Old West” touts the current day second largest City in the State and still pays tribute to our heritage.

The “Frontier” brand was a natural for Fort Smith since so much of the community embraced its history, anchored by the Fort Smith National Historic Site, the Fort Smith Museum of History, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum and even the Fort Smith National Cemetery.  The tourism industry coined a phrase in more recent years for what Fort Smith had been involved with for years, called “Cultural Heritage Tourism.”  The official definition is “…traveling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.  It includes irreplaceable historic, cultural and natural resources.”

Over the years, attractions intended for the local population to enjoy, like the Bonneville House, the Clayton House, the Belle Grove Historic District and even the Park at West End also provided an important benefit of entertaining visitors and helping to attract them to the River Valley.  The two versions of the movie “True Grit” and the naming of Fort Smith as the future home of the United States Marshals Service national museum did much to solidified and expand the Fort Smith tourism brand.

It was for all of these reasons that the staff of the Fort Smith Convention and Visitors (CVB) Bureau were convinced that the community should vie for a spot in the True West Magazine competition for recognition as a “Top Ten True Western Town” for the year 2013.  Being named to the Top Ten would be a fitting recognition of the decades of work by loyal volunteers and hospitality professionals alike, for preserving and sharing our historic past.            

Faced with a very short deadline to submit application for the community it was decided to gather a group of the very people who work to preserve our frontier heritage in Fort Smith—the virtual “brain trust” of our past--in order to gather from volumes of materials, that which would most efficiently represent Fort Smith in the application.  Each of nearly a dozen individuals were literally given “home work assignments” and just a matter or days to gather information in their area of expertise, and return it to CVB Communications Manager, who crafted the eleven page application.

Upon review of the application CVB staff had a good feeling about the submission but no idea who the competition or the outcome might be, having only submitted an application once in the past, garnering  a “City to Watch” designation.

True West states that Top Ten designation is “given to towns that have made an important contribution to preserving their Old West heritage.” 

The editor states in part “….thanks to the largely unpaid and often anonymous army of preservationists and historical society members who identify, maintain and restore the buildings and artifacts of those days, we—as well as our children and grandchildren—have the chance to marvel at these irreplaceable relics where so much of our fabled history took place.”

In our admittedly biased opinion, it seemed as though they were referencing Fort Smith, Arkansas in particular, and the  “good feeling” about the application proved valid when staff were advised that Fort Smith had indeed earned the designation “#1 True Western Town” for 2013.

The CVB staff salutes the hundreds of Fort Smith residents who for decades have made our past become a key to our future, in earning this most prestigious designation.       


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