Fort Smith Waterfront RV Park


Of the eight million RV households in America, many are cultural tourists seeking greater familiarity with America’s heritage. The RV Park adjacent to Fort Smith’s National Historic Park also services bicyclists, boaters, and moviegoers interested in extending their visit to the historic site. The park also doubles as a disaster service center to improve community resilience.

Project Statement

Project Statement

Of the eight million RV households in America, many are cultural tourists seeking greater familiarity with America’s heritage. The Poteau River site adjacent to Fort Smith’s National Historic Park is an ideal location for another park function—an RV Park. The RV Park is a value-added land use supportive of the cultural development aggregating along the city’s waterfront, including the new U.S. Marshals Museum. The RV Park is part of an emergent heritage and entertainment ecosystem that is “city close and country quiet”.

An attraction for visitors beyond RV patrons, the waterfront park offers amenities for bicyclists using the waterfront trail, boaters landing at the dock, and residents wishing to fish, birdwatch, and picnic along the waterfront. Even moviegoers can watch a film in the Pavilion. Functioning as a landmark seen from both land and water, The Pavilion is the signature structure anchoring the Park. The 1,200-square foot structure with an illuminated canvas lantern shelters porch swings and movie goers facing a movie screen hovering atop the boat dock. Akin to a large civic porch, the Pavilion functions as an intermodal facility where boaters, bicyclists, and RVers intersect, meet, and hangout to picnic and view sunsets.

Attached to the Pavilion, a Landing Room on the sloped bank features an amphitheater connected to a small boat dock on the Poteau River. The entire volume of the Landing Room is a prefabricated box frame made from two Vierendeel trusses to minimize environmental disruption of the river’s edge. A movie screen is located on a third truss that structurally reinforces the space frame and double-duties as a gateway to orients boaters to the Pavilion above.

The geometry of the RV parking area reflects the archetypal western image of “wagons encircling the camp”. Parking stalls position vehicles such that their public edges (the passenger side) open to the central Camp Green. Head-on parking directs exhaust and noise away from the Camp Green to create a social space missing in most RV Parks, which have essentially become truck stops. Interstitial space between RV parking stalls are dedicated bioswales or rain gardens to remediate polluted stormwater runoff.

A Charred-Wood Display Wall frames the interior of the park while providing views to the river through a series of portals. Akin to storefront display windows, portals house curated items (e.g., maps, artifacts, or images) showcasing content related to waterfront attractions and history.

An Entry Court frames the western edge of the site and the Toilet/Service Area while providing a bicycle repair and tire pump station at this western terminus of the waterfront trail. The Service Area includes a Disaster Service Area, a concept for improving community resilience though provision of emergency preparedness in public spaces. The Disaster Service Area is an off-grid facility that provides toilets, phone charging stations, a community information board, emergency lighting, and potable water all powered by generators when electrical service is down. The park’s Service Area becomes a gathering place after a disaster to reconnect, recharge, and recover.

Proposed park structures celebrate the aerodynamic forms of contemporary motoring and RVs through their rounded forms, colors, and metallic mesh screens. The “river” of railroad ties embedded in the pavement at the Entry Court celebrates sense of place while the Pavilion and Landing Room reconnect land and water through bridge-like structures.

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