When you first arrive in Independence County, you will take in views of the beautiful Ozark foothills, a region of rolling forest and pasture criss crossed with rivers and creeks called “the gateway to the Ozarks.” This area of Northern Arkansas situated between ascending mountains to the west and delta lowlands to the east boasts some ofthe oldest history in the state as well as prestigious and cutting-edge industry, commerce, education, and recreation. Here, visitors find the oldest surviving city in Arkansas, Batesville, complete with picturesque Victorian homes and a thriving main street lined with historic buildings restored formodern shopping, dining, and entertainment. The area has long been home to farmers and small town charm, while simultaneously hosting a growing number of businesses and two colleges, which draw newcomers from around the globe, a unique combination for the size of the community. But what’s unique is what you will find when you venture into Independence County.
Batesville began planning over a decade ago to improve and maximize the city’s offerings,and the county is now in the middle of its IMPACT Independence County Strategic Plan. In 2016, the Chamber of Commerce created a new position to drive tourism into the future. In under two years, tourism director Kyle Christopher has done just that. Tourism spending is now over $50,000,000 annually in the county, anover $5 million increase from the previous year. Independence County experienced an 11% growth in tourism dollars from 2016 to 2017.
Much of this stems from growing interest in newly opened facilities and leisure opportunities in the area. New shops and restaurants are opening up each year. Batesville and the surrounding region continue to deliver for residents and visitors alike exceptional projects, like the addition of a state-of-the-art community and aquatic center, the restoration of one of Arkansas’ oldest and most loved theaters, the revival of the historic district into a pedestrian-friendly main street, commitment to high-quality sporting and outdoor recreation, and a variety of cultural events and yearly festivals.
There is no way to deny the magnificent natural landscape only steps away in Independence County. At a moment’s notice, you can go rock climbing at the Jamestown Crag, boating on the White River, paddling down Polk Bayou, or hiking and biking along one of the plentiful trails in the area. The Ozark foothills are a hunter and fisherman’s paradise. A short drive will take you to popular camp grounds or to explore the vast Blanchard Springs caverns. Lyon College’s LEAP (Lyon Education and Adventure Program) regularly engages students and the community to explore the area and participate in outdoor adventures on campus.
Batesville is an excellent place for sports enthusiasts. With multiple high school, college, and local leagues, the community offers a variety of facilities and hosts tournaments. The multi-million-dollar Community Center and Aquatic Park that opened last year serves individuals and organizations alike. Visitors need only pay a small fee to enjoy the fantastic Aquatic Park, which features a range of pools, waterslides, and a lazy river. Even the tiniest visitors can enjoy a pool and splash area designed for children. Golfers coming to Batesville can pick between two separate golf courses located in the city. As home to NASCAR hall of famer Mark Martin, racing has become part of the identity of Batesville. Visitors can catch a race at nearby Batesville Motor Speedway.
It truly is remarkable how much can be found in the charming, Southern town. Often compared to Mayberry a la Andy Griffith, the city is known for its safety and friendliness. No visit to Batesville would be complete without a stroll through the newly revitalized historic district. Main Street Batesville has worked with other groups to transform the once sleepy downtown into a stunning hot spot for commerce and entertainment. Past the bright, cheerful colors of treasured Victorian-erahomes, century-old trees that border Batesville’s main street, and stately historic churches, you will emerge onto a bustling modern streetscape. There are shops for clothing, furniture, antiques, books, jewelry, sporting goods, luxury items, and more, including art galleries and a pottery studio. The downtown area offers coffee shops, casual eateries and upscale dining, aspecialty frozen yogurt spot, and a brand new food truck park. There are public parks which act as gathering spots for locals, live shows, and farmer’s markets. The area draws patrons of all ages, from seniors to young families to college students. At the end of the street sits the beloved Melba Theater,which screens movies at $4 a ticket, and Marshall Dry Goods, a favorite of crafters since 1944. Main street captures the heart and soul of the region with its nostalgic roots intermingled with a determination to become a leader in innovation and cultural advancement.
Still, there is more to see. Independence County offer various museums, performance venues like UACCB’s Independence Hall, much more shopping and dining, and a busy schedule of activities all year long. You won’t want to miss the spectacular display of Christmas lights shown in December’s White River Wonderland, which drew more than 120,000 visitors last year. The annual Scottish Festival held on Lyon College’s campus in the spring celebrates the region’s Scottish heritage with a myriad of games, demonstrations, and vendors. Artoberfest brings out artists and live music in the open air of Main Street every fall. This is only a sampling of the array of experiences available here in Independence County.
www.experienceindependence.com has a full community calendar of events and more information about the area.