- LIKE A ROCHE: The Little Rock.
It will take substantial fund-raising to do it, but the city is determined to make a big deal over the Little Rock.
The Little Rock, on which piers for the Junction Railroad Bridge rest and which Benard de la Harpe called “La Petite Roche” as a reference point after landing there in 1722, juts out, petitely, low on the riverbank. It practically takes a satellite reading to find it, since you can't see the rock until you are right above it.
It's the invisibility the city hopes to rectify, with a project that will excavate a slope from the entrance of the Riverfest Amphitheatre down to the rock. The level of the riverbank will be lowered 20 feet and its edge pulled 50 to 60 feet back from the shoreline to create a viewing area eye-level with La Petite Roche.
A stone wall that defines the northern edge of the Riverfront Adventure Park (on the west side of the Junction Bridge) will continue east under the bridge entry and around the new promontory, creating a retaining wall. Landscaped paths will lead from a circular plaza level with the bridge entry will lead down to the amphitheater and the rock.
The tab: $750,000 to $1 million.
The project “is going to have a tremendous effect on our efforts to develop Riverfront Park and attract more people,” Parks and Recreation Director Truman Tolefree said.
The impetus for raising the Little Rock's profile (literally and figuratively) was the remodeling of the Junction Bridge into a pedestrian crossing over the Arkansas River. The $4.7 million project is expected to be complete in April 2008. Mark Webre, deputy parks director, said the city would like to have the Little Rock work well underway by then, but acknowledged it might take longer to raise the funds. (The Adventure Park playground — now scheduled to open in March 2008 — was supposed to open last January. The city ended up building much of the park itself to save on construction costs.)
The rock's obscurity has long been bemoaned by Assistant City Manager Bryan Day, Tolefree's predecessor at the parks department. City Director Dean Kumpuris, Riverfront Park's biggest booster and the chair of a committee to enhance the Little Rock, is raising money for the project. Kumpuris said he had “requests in to various people” for private funds, and that he hoped to be able to raise $500,000 of the cost.
The Little Rock wasn't as little as it is today when La Harpe gave it its moniker. A sizable portion of the sandstone and shale outcrop was blown away during construction of the Junction Bridge in 1899. A marker on top of the Little Rock that remains identifies the rock. (The outcropping that makes up the Little Rock is also west of the bridge.)
It's unknown how deep the rock goes. Webre said designers hope it won't disappear on them as the surface of the earth around it is excavated. Mike Howard, a geologist with the state Geological Survey, said the Little Rock, a part of the Jack Fork Formation that makes up the Ouachita foothills, is likely to be deep enough for the design to work.
The rock is singular in that it is the first rock travelers up the Arkansas River encounter. The Big Rock is just upstream on the north side.
The rock served as the starting point for the Quapaw Line, the western boundary of land given the Quapaw in an 1818 treaty with the United States. A zinc strip will be sunk into the ground to mark the segment of the line that clips the west side of the Arkansas Studies Institute now under construction at Rock Street and President Clinton Avenue. A new monument will be placed at the Little Rock to tell the story of its significance in local history.