WATCH | Spa City sees uptick in visitors as states take spring break

Kristin Mangham, marketing director for Garvan Woodland Gardens, says the tulips, shown here on Monday, are at their peak this week at the botanical garden. - Photo by Donald Cross of The Sentinel-Record
Kristin Mangham, marketing director for Garvan Woodland Gardens, says the tulips, shown here on Monday, are at their peak this week at the botanical garden. - Photo by Donald Cross of The Sentinel-Record

Downtown Hot Springs is packed with visitors this week as several neighboring states celebrate their respective spring breaks in the Spa City.

Schools in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas are among the states celebrating their weeklong break this week, and a glance at license plates driving down Central Avenue shows visitors from Kansas and even as far away as Alaska.

"Last week, there were some spring breaks that had already begun," Bill Solleder, marketing director for Visit Hot Springs, said Monday.

"Technically starting this Friday, St. Patrick's Day, is the beginning of Arkansas'. When you see spring break lists, it lists the Monday, but it really starts as soon as that bell hits on Friday, so we'll see a very busy week all this week and all last week."

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Solleder said he notes the number of visitors on his way to work each morning.

"I live Uptown, so when I drive through downtown every day, I'm looking at just a couple of just very easy ways to know how busy it's going to be," he said. "And that's how long is the line at Colonial (Pancake and Waffle House), how long is the line at The Pancake Shop, the Buckstaff and the Quapaw (bath houses). This morning, Monday morning, literally the line (at Buckstaff Baths) was all the way to the sidewalk, so I know it's going to be busy."

The Hot Springs Visitor Center reported visitors from 19 states and Spain on Saturday, he said.

"Kansas and Iowa were well represented this weekend," he said. "When we reach out to the surrounding states and find out when the spring breaks are for the touch states to Arkansas, we normally don't go a state further -- Kansas, even Illinois or Iowa -- but the Visitor Center reported that there was a bunch of guests here from Kansas and Iowa," he said.

"So whatever's happening, the word is getting out there. People are curious, and they're wanting to come visit Hot Springs, and that's a great thing."

With the Arkansas state high school basketball championships held at Bank OZK Arena over the weekend, several fans decided to stick around after the games.

"During basketball this weekend, I was talking to some parents from Salem, who went on to win the championships in the girls, and they were just so excited to be here for the weekend because they get to come watch their daughter play basketball," he said.

"And then it's just not like play the game, get on the bus and go back home; they made a weekend out of it. They stayed here, and to them it was like coming to the big city. We think of it as a little town, but for some little towns, it's a big city."

Solleder also noted the cherry blossoms and tulips seemed to bloom earlier this year.

"I think Mother Nature's just doing what Mother Nature does, and it's not my place to question what's happening," he said with a laugh. "So I do feel like there's been some great days, some great spring days. Of course, we're looking really close at the weather right now because of St. Pat's, and that forecast continues to change by the minute.

"So right now, it looks like it's going to be a beautiful day, albeit a little bit chilly. We should have some rain on Thursday, and then we should be clear after that. So that's a good thing. The weather is usually on our side."

Kristin Mangham, marketing director for Garvan Woodland Gardens, said the tulips are at their peak this week.

"We had that week of warmer weather, and so that really made them start blooming," she said. "They are at peak this week, so it's prime viewing to see the most color for tulips right now."

The facility, a botanical garden of the University of Arkansas, has already started to see an increase in visitors.

"It's our second-busiest time of year," she said, noting Holiday Lights is the busiest.

"Spring happens to be my favorite time of the year in the garden. There is tons of color. We planted over 150,000 tulips this year. Really the show is remarkable. I think that everybody is excited for spring and warm weather, and Tulips (Extravaganza) is kind of like the beginning of that. It welcomes everybody in, so it's a huge draw for us."

While tulips are perennial plants, Mangham said Garvan Woodland Gardens digs up and replants bulbs each year for the best results.

"The Gardens has a lot of shade, and tulips need a lot of sun when they die off to get the bulb ready for the next year," she said. "And we want to ensure that we have a full show every year, so we actually dig all of them up and then replant new tulip bulbs every year."

With 160 different varieties of tulips, there are colors, shapes and sizes for everyone.

"Some of them are your standard tulip that you're gonna see everywhere," she said. "We have parrot tulips that are ruffly and multicolor. We have lots of variations. There are some that look more like a rose, or more like a peony that are larger. So lots of different kinds to look at."

With St. Patrick's Day landing on the Friday before the start of spring break in Arkansas, Solleder said he expects an even larger crowd than normal.

"I think this year's biggest draw is the parade's on a Friday with the extra concert on a Saturday," he said, noting Poyen native and country music star Justin Moore will serve as the grand marshal and Christopher McDonald, best-known as Shooter McGavin from "Happy Gilmore," will start the parade.

"That and it being Arkansas' spring break. That will bring the numbers way up. ... Everyone always loves the (Dallas Cowboys) cheerleaders. They're increasing their numbers from a dozen to 16 this year, so that'll be fun. So many little kids are wanting to meet the 'Paw Patrol,' so Skye and Marshall will be here," he said.

"Saturday night Village People -- I mean, how iconic can you get? I can't wait to see all of Bridge Street, the whole district, doing the YMCA dance, so it should be fun. It'll be a good time. I expect big numbers for sure."

  photo  The Hill Wheatley Plaza fountain at the corner of Reserve and Central sprays Kelly green on Monday as downtown sidewalks bustle with spring break visitors. - Photo by Mark Gregory of The Sentinel-Record
 
 

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