Bentonville, Arkansas, has so much to offer, including “one of the best half-miles” in U.S.

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

BENTONVILLE, Arkansas, Nov. 25, 2023 — Until last February, the only thing I knew about Bentonville, Arkansas, was that it was the headquarters of the retail giant Walmart, Inc.

But my wife Mary Riche loves art.  She knew that the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art had opened in 2011 in the northwest Arkansas city, and her friends who’d visited it were unanimous with rave reviews.  So we spent a night and day here last winter on our way home from a college baseball weekend in Arlington, Texas.

Oh, my, what we’d been missing!

 

Bentonville, pop. 54,000, has it all.  A booming economy, gorgeous natural surroundings, wonderful hotels, great restaurants, exceptionally well-done redevelopment of historic neighborhoods and the central business district, head-turning new architecture, and a cultural scene that matches what you expect in cities 10 times the size of this one.

And, after our experience here this weekend, I’ll argue that Bentonville has one of the finest half-miles in America.

Walking right through an art installation on the trail in Bentonville. This is sculptor Nancy Schon’s “Tortoise and Hare.”

What I’m referring to is the half-mile long walk or bicycle ride you can take on the Crystal Bridges Trail.  Specifically, it’s the part of that trail from the west edge of the business district to the art museum located in the northeast part of town.  It’s a deep, wooded valley along Town Branch Creek. 

A spur of that route is called the Art Trail.  At 10 or 12 spots alongside it, you see world-class sculpture – big pieces and some smaller ones that are as good as what we all enjoy in the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines.  It’s lined in places by stone walls that are artwork in their own right, and ditto for the curved stone beds of tributary streams coming down the hillsides.

I’m showing it to you in the 19 photos with this column.

But the best part of this short trail isn’t the art or the natural enhancements along its route.  What I liked most is that about any time you’re on it, you are sharing the experience with people visiting from all over the world.  You hear multiple languages.  No one is arguing.  Everybody seems happy.  Strangers are taking time to take photos of each other’s groups.

What a treasure Bentonville has in this art-filled culture community they’ve created.

At the trailhead on the edge of the business district.

Credit much of that to the benevolence of the Walton family that built the Walmart empire from a start in 1950 in “Walton’s 5&10” store on the town square.  Today, the publicly-traded company has 10,500 stores in 19 countries. 

By now the Walton Family Foundation and the Alice Walton Foundation have helped fund all kinds of public programs and facilities, especially in Bentonville and the rest of Arkansas.  That funding is helping the Crystal Bridges Museum expand its facilities from the 200,000 square feet it has now to 300,000.  The collection of American art keeps getting bigger and better.  And admission and parking continue to be free to the public.

The company continues to grow.  In fact, Walmart is now building a whole new headquarters on a 350-acre “corporate campus” in Bentonville.  Construction is well underway on 12 new buildings on that campus, which will also include two lakes and nature trails. More than 15,000 employees will be moving soon from buildings and offices now scattered all over town.

The whole region is prospering and growing.  Population of the “metropolitan statistical area” of a half-dozen towns has grown 53 percent since 2010, and the median age here is now reported to be in the low 30s.

You’ve gotta see Bentonville!

The colorful wind chimes sculpture by Sam Falls invites trail users to perform. The chimes, up to 10 feet long, sound with soothing low notes.

As you walk the trail you come to this attractive and curious round building, which is an art installation called “The Way of Color” by the noted James Turrell. The ceiling of the round building has a large opening, through which sunlight passes. As the sun’s position changes, the way light enters the ceiling changes — and so do the resulting colors in the big round interior room.

Mary Riche and Chuck Offenburger at the panel explaining how the colors inside the building change through the day. When we approached the building, we heard what we thought was probably recorded music, beautiful soothing music.

We walked inside the sculpture to find these three singers from Bentonville High School rehearsing baroque Christmas carols that they were performing in an upcoming concert.

The Bentonville High School singers say they love practicing in the sculpture along the trail because the accoustics are so good — and their drop-in audiences are so appreciative.

Right along the trail is the towering “Redstick” horse sculpture by Deborah Butterfield.

“Stella,” a happy sow by sculptor Andre Harvey, greets trail users.

“Stella,” with Mary Riche sneaking past on the trail.

Another animal sculpture on the trail is “My Best Friend: Good Friday Walton,” by Kelly Graham. The explanation on a nearby plaque is that on Good Friday of 2006, a dog like this one meandered up to the home of Crystal Bridges Museum founder Alice Walton, who adopted him. They had 16 years together.

The colorful “Flowers That Bloom Now” by sculptor Yayoi Kusama.

If you look closely at this photo, you see the plaque in the foreground explaining that the 1,800 “mirrored spheres,” all the size of basketballs, float in the pond and are stirred and distributed by the winds. All this is a re-imagination of a story from Greek mythology, explains sculptor Yayoi Kusama.

Sculptor George Segal has a trailside installation called “Three People on Four Benches.” The people are bronze figures with a white patina. Two women on the benches seemed ready for an interview.

A man on the bench in George Segal’s sculpture had nothing to say to Mary Riche.

We’re beneath one of the largest and most dramatic sculptures along the trail, “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois.

The sculpture “Already Set in Motion” by Robyn Horn is made of redwood and black dye. It is installed outside a back entrance to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, at the head of the “Art Trail” in Bentonville.

One more look at “Tortoise and Hare” on the trail.

We RicheBurgers at another installation of the popular “LOVE” sculpture by Robert Indiana. There are 50 similar pieces by Indiana — in many different colors — around the nation. We’ve seen five of them. In the background in this photo, that’s one building of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

You can comment on this column below or write the columnist directly by email at chuck@offenburger.com.

Additional note: The art that actually drew us back to Bentonville in late November is a new exhibit of the pictures of the legendary American photographer-artist-journalist Annie Leibovitz at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. That exhibit continues through January 29, 2024.  You can read Mary Riche’s column about Leibovitz’s work by clicking on this link.

3 thoughts on “Bentonville, Arkansas, has so much to offer, including “one of the best half-miles” in U.S.

  1. Fabulous ! So interesting. I’ll put this on my list of go to places. Loved the pix and explanations and enthusiasm. Also love art in nature. Thanks for another great piece, Chuck, enhanced by Mary’s lively presence.

    • City - Paris
    • State - France
  2. It looks like we will have to put Bentonville on our list of stops now! Thanks for your interesting story and pictures. Median age in the low 30’s?!

    • City - Jamaica
    • State - IA
  3. We moved here in 2011 after retirement from Iowa and never looked back. Our perceptions of the Walton family have changed quite a bit because of all the benefits that they have bestowed on both Bentonville and Arkansas. You did not mention the fact that the area has become a mecca for bike riders. The Walton grandchildren have donated a ton of money to build trails so if any of your readers are bikers this is the place to visit.

    • City - Bella Vista
    • State - AR

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