New boathouse at Two Rivers Park could launch ‘out-of-the-box’ park programming

Little Rock Parks and Recreation and the Arkansas Boathouse Club have wet their paddles for a multi-million dollar community boathouse at Two Rivers Park. At an estimated 11,000 square feet, the proposed structure would provide ample storage and gathering space for local organizations and the public.

At the confluence of the Arkansas and Little Maumelle Rivers, Two Rivers Park offers 1,000 acres of flat-land activity space. With water ideal for rowing and paths paved for cycling, the park would be a perfect spot for a new boathouse and gathering space, according to Julia Watkins, president of the Arkansas Boathouse Club.

This section of the Arkansas River is “one of the best bodies of water in the country for people to row on,” Watkins said. “But it’s a very well kept secret.”

photo of a rowing compeitionBrian Chilson
Rowers compete in a regatta on the Arkansas River.

In collaboration with Little Rock Parks and Recreation, Watkins envisioned a two-story structure that would provide boat storage, ramps and docks, as well as an upstairs recreational space. The second story would include workshops, event areas, fitness equipment, a kitchen, locker room, restrooms and an outdoor patio that overlooks the river. It could cost up to $4 million.

The new structure would accompany one previously-built open air boathouse that multiple organizations and the public share. Having both structures, Watkins said, would be huge for the growth of the Arkansas Boathouse Club, and for the city.

According to a request for proposal, the project would be completed in three phases: planning, scope, schematic design and budget study; fundraising; full architectural services and construction. The organization is seeking funds for phase one.

An “out-of-the-box” and “unbelievable concept,” the new boathouse could propel an attempt from Parks and Recreation to develop some unconventional programming in Little Rock, director Leland Couch said.

“If we get all this up and running,” Couch said. “I want it to be where we can bring individuals from our community centers, from our parks, to come and row here and learn what rowing is.” 

Rowing can be a sport for everyone, 60-year-old Watkins, a practicing gynecologist, said. She started rowing just two years ago and was aboard immediately.

“This is a sport that you can do your whole life,” she said. “You know, we have kids as young as 13 that row with us. And our oldest member is in his mid-70s.”

The city of Little Rock and the Parks and Recreation Department initially started the boathouse proposal in 2017, but just part of the plan was fulfilled. A sports complex was proposed with many of the same features as the new community boathouse. Rather than continue with the five-year-old plan, the process was started again, Couch said. 

Expanding outside of the typical Little Rock programming for baseball, basketball and tennis, Couch said he wants to branch out to other opportunities such as archery, hiking and rowing.

As it exists now, the Arkansas Boathouse Club hosts regattas, or rowing competitions, at the river. And because the water is calm the majority of the time, rowing is possible nine months out of the year, Watkins said.

“If we could build this facility, then we can get people from all over the country to come in here and do regattas,” she said.

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